I’ve been publishing interviews done with Dan Morgenstern over the past few days — the best tribute I can pay Dan is to let him be himself — but here is one that hasn’t been seen yet.
Dan praises Tommy’s beautiful art and character . . . many of the same things could be said of the man seen in his Upper West Side apartment:
Here’s Tommy, solo, at the 1981 Montreux Jazz Festival:
If you’re reading this post early on Wednesday, October 27, and you’re within reach of midtown Manhattan, there’s still time to get to Birdland for the celebration of Dan’s 92nd birthday with David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band . . . the music starts at 5, the doors open at 4.
This is one-half of a rare concert — no other performances from this year were captured — singular for that reason, and because it is the only evidence I have of Ella performing with Jimmie Rowles, piano; Keter Betts, string bass; Bobby Durham, drums, and the trio is featured for the first thirty-five minutes of this presentation. I think the Rowles solo medley is so very precious.
Here’s the bill of fare:
Rowles, Betts, Durham: DEVIL’S ISLAND / THE LADY IN THE CORNER / Betts feature / THE PEACOCKS – MY FUNNY VALENTINE – GOODBYE (JR solo) / NOW’S THE TIME (Durham) // Ella: THEM THERE EYES / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ / LET’S DO IT / AFTER YOU’VE GONE / Ella introduces the trio / TAKE THE “A” TRAIN (Drop Me Off In Harlem – I Love New York) / QUIET NIGHTS // Antibes Jazz Festival, July 22, 1981.
Some jazz enthusiasts hold these half-truths to be completely evident:
a) No one buys CDs anymore, and if someone does (contradicting the first assumption) he probably has a crank phone on the wall of his basement room, next to the black-and-white television set found on the street;
b) No one pays for music anymore, since everything is accessible online.
Brace yourself. What follows is a recommendation that you — gasp — buy a CD to hear divine music not available any other way.
“Let yourself go!”
The CD contains 36 musical performances by a medium-sized big band, broadcast in early 1937. The band was led by violinist superhero Stuff Smith, and combined parts of his own Onyx Club Boys with members of the Cab Calloway and Chick Webb orchestras: Ben Webster, Jonah Jones, Sandy Williams, Garvin Bushell, Walter Thomas, Clyde Hart, Bobby Bennett, John Kirby (perhaps Milt Hinton), Cozy Cole.
AND a pearly young Miss Ella Fitzgerald.
Here’s a sample: Ella before the Cole Porter Songbook, in a composition she didn’t record in her early prime — with solos by Ben:
Such a de-lovely rarity, found — along with 36 other previously unheard performances from 1937 on the CD depicted in the image — issued on AB Fable CD 024. The music and the documentation will also explain why Ella refers to “Lucidin” in the lyrics. Source material courtesy of Jonah Jones, Edgar Sampson, and Anthony Barnett: read about — and purchase — this dazzling offering http://abar.net/index.htm.
And if you would like nearly six more minutes of swing ecstasy to be convinced that AB Fable is worth investigating, I invite you to listen and read more here.
P.S. Why am I writing a blogpost about a CD released in 2010? Simple: not enough people know about it, and it is one of my favorites on my wall of CDs. And whenever I have conversations with people and I reveal that I am deeply involved in jazz, before they start to look wildly around the room for someone else — anyone! — to talk to, they say, “I really like Ella Fitzgerald,” before they run off. I wish one-tenth of the people who “really like Ella” would buy this CD!
The news is that I’ve fallen in love with a six-minute collection of vibrations, and my neighbors have not called in the authorities.
Yes, there’s surface noise. And two or three speed fluctuations at the start. Be calm. There’s also some of the finest swing imaginable. If you think, “But I don’t like jazz violin,” or “UMBRELLA MAN is such a dumb tune,” just listen.
In 1942 violin wizard Stuff Smith led a band of Fats Waller alumni — not after Waller’s death, as has been suggested. The band was Herman Autrey, trumpet; Ted McCord, tenor saxophone; Sammy Benskin, piano; Al Casey, guitar; Al Hall, string bass; Slick Jones, drums. This performance is part of a late-August broadcast from the Old Vienna Restaurant in Cincinnati, Ohio, taken off the air by William E. Loeffler. The source of all this joy is an available CD — fancy that! — on violin scholar Anthony Barnett’s AB FABLE label (ABCD 015).
Barnett has released incredibly rare recordings: Ella Fitzgerald in 1937 with a Smith-led big band combining players from his own band, from Chick Webb’s band and Cab Calloway’s.
AND a private jam session with Ray Nance, Ben Webster, Jimmie Blanton, Fred Guy, and Sonny Greer, on which Ben plays clarinet (!).
AND wonderful recordings by Eddie South, Ray Perry, Ginger Smock, and more.
Visit http://abar.net/index.htm to see the CD releases and books. Barnett’s research is deep and impeccable, and the recordings he unearths are incredibly rewarding: this is just an uplifting sample.
I can hear some of you grumbling, “I listen on _______ for free. CDs are for dinosaurs.” In the forests, T-Rex is swinging like mad, and those berries are like vintage wine.
This public service announcement is brought to you by an enthralled purchaser. Now I’m going to play UMBRELLA MAN for perhaps the thirtieth time. It scrapes the clouds.
Facebook is good for something. Last month, Clyde Groves, Billy Butterfield’s son-in-law, cordially reached out to me and we decided to do a profile of Billy – so respected in every context during his lifetime and less known now. I offer the result, a delightful conversation among Clyde, Billy’s daughter Judi, and son Pat.
For reasons of space, I have not written about Billy — from my own perspective — in this post, but tomorrow’s post will add in some previously unseen video and a few lines of mine. I also have not listed who’s playing what on the music excerpts, but can provide those details on request.
But first, some memorable music.
Pat Butterfield: He was a very private person, definitely incredibly generous. He would befriend anyone, which might have been one of his failings, too. Some people took advantage of him because of that. My father was very quiet.
He liked to read a lot. When I knew him, he’d get up in the middle of the night, go sit in the living room and read. Not necessarily the best-sellers, although he liked fiction, but he also would read about musicians. Not actually music itself, but the classical people – the life of Beethoven, people that he admired. And he listened to a lot of music in the house. He particularly liked Ella Fitzgerald, he felt that she was probably the greatest female jazz vocalist of all time. He listened to classical music, and, in fact, he introduced me to it. I can remember listening to SWAN LAKE and things like that, and a lot of Beethoven. In fact, I got the sheet music to the Moonlight Sonata. I’d sit there and peck away at it, and he’d help me with reading some of the difficult parts of the bass clef. He would sit down and play the piano. The problem was his hands weren’t very big, so he did a lot of slurring. My brother Mike had the same ability, an ear for music and a natural understanding of chord systems, but I didn’t inherit any of that. My brother played with string bass with him several times.
Clyde Groves: I met him when I was fourteen – that’s when I met Judi and her twin sister Debbie, and her mother Dottie, who was a wonderful vocalist also. We always thought that she sounded a lot like Ella, the vocalist she admired the most. And Billy was fortunate enough to have recorded with Ella.
Billy was very humble. He wasn’t one to toot his own horn, so to speak. I would be over at their house, for instance, and he’d have just gotten back from a tour, or he’d been on the Johnny Carson show, or with The World’s Greatest Jazz Band on Mike Douglas, or by himself on Merv Griffin, and I would tell him, “Oh, Mr. Butterfield, I just saw you on Johnny Carson!” and he would go, “Yeah. So, Clyde, how’s school? How’re you doing in baseball?” He would just change the subject.
Judi Groves: He was very shy. He was a man of few words, but when he would speak, because he didn’t talk a lot, you perked up and wanted to listen to what he had to say. It was like pulling teeth to get him to talk about his childhood and things that he had done, amazing things that he had done. You know, he played for the first all-integrated audience in South Africa. He came home and never even spoke about it. I didn’t even know about it until years afterwards. He told them that would be the only way he would play, that he could bring his black musicians and play for a mixed audience. He also – and I found this kind of neat – back then, they had the Green Book: you couldn’t go to hotels with black musicians, and since they wouldn’t let them stay in the hotel with him, he would go to the black motel. He was very loyal to his band in that way also. He was a very loving man.
When my dad did those college tours, my mom travelled with them, and we stayed with my mom’s sister. My cousins are more like my brothers and sisters than cousins. My dad wanted us to move down to Virginia. He wanted us to be with family. Once, I remember that my dad was kind of embarrassed. We lived in Smithfield, Virginia, where the meat-packing plant is, where the hams come from. They had asked my father to be the Grand Marshall of the parade there. He didn’t want to turn it down, because they really wanted him to do it. But he wasn’t about that kind of thing – that put him back in the limelight. I think he wanted people to like him for himself rather than for what he had accomplished, which is why he didn’t want us to talk about it all the time, either.
Clyde: He liked playing ballads more than anything. That was his favorite thing. He looked at the trumpet as his singing voice. And Yank and Billy, when they were with The World’s Greatest Jazz Band, they could really play off each other, the harmonies they could make on their horns on BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME or BLACK AND BLUE. Yank Lawson was an all-time great. And I put Billy there too. They’re being forgotten, unless it’s younger people who are playing the horn or in a jazz ensemble – most people don’t know who they were. He played that STARDUST with Artie Shaw, and he was in the Gramercy Five. He played with everybody.
Judi: He liked Bix Beiderbecke, too.
Clyde: Yes, Louis and Bix were his essentials. Are you familiar with the album BILLY PLAYS BIX? That’s a true joy to listen to. There’s the album on Victor called GUS HOO – I think the musicians were all in some kind of contract disputes, so they couldn’t play under their own names. He picked “Gus Hoo,” which was his sense of humor.
Judi: He did! He was a funny man.
Clyde: When I first met Judi, I was fourteen, and I had no idea who Billy Butterfield was. I was into the Beatles, the Rolling Stones. I had never heard of him, but of course my mom and dad knew who he was. My dad would try to get under Judi’s mom’s skin and say, “Yes, Billy’s a great cornet player,” and Dottie would correct him, “He’s a TRUMPET player.”
Billy was on the road so much when Judi and I were dating. He was thoughtful and kind. I used to go see him at Andy Bartha’s, and whenever he’d spot me in the audience, during the break he would come and sit with me. Of course, then all my drinks were on the house. All around us, people would be whispering. You could hear them, “Oh, that must be his nephew. He’s got to be related,” because every break Billy would come and sit with me. There were all these people he could have sat with, and I felt really honored that he would do that.
Judi: I found a record of my dad singing, and I was kind of amazed that he had a pretty good voice.
Clyde: It was with his big band, and Billy had commented that, back then, all the rage was that the trumpet players, the leaders of the band, would do vocals. But Billy said that this was the record company’s way of saving money, by not hiring a vocalist, but he hated doing it. He was pretty young then.
You know the story of how Bob Crosby discovered him? Bob and Yank or Bob Haggart were driving to a gig, and their car broke down near Lexington, where the University of Transylvania was, so when they went to the hotel, they asked the clerk if there was any good music around in this town, and the clerk referred them to the Austin Wylie band. As soon as they heard Billy play, they were amazed. After they stopped playing, Bob and either Yank or Haggart went over to Billy and said, “We’d like you to join the band. Are you interested?” Of course he said yes, and they said, “Well, we’ll send you a ticket to New York.” Weeks went by, and Billy was, “Well, they were just pulling my leg and praising me,” which was nice, but he thought nothing would come of it. I guess they knew there was going to be an opening, and here comes a telegram with a ticket to New York. So that’s how he got found by Bob Crosby. The chances of the stars aligning like that. If the car hadn’t broken down, who knows if anyone would have heard of Billy. That was his big start. He was in college, and he dropped out and went to New York. He played football. He was on the high school and college team.
Judi: He got cleated in the leg, and that was when penicillin first came out, because he almost lost his leg.
Pat: Dad got out of the service in 1945, when they said that anyone who could employ twenty-five people could get out, so he immediately did that, put this band together, and went on the road. The first year, which would have been ’45-’46, he did all right, and then in 1947, they basically went in debt. The Big Band Era was over, so he moved to New York. He had accrued a debt of twenty-five to maybe thirty thousand dollars, and he went to work as a staff man for ABC. I was five or six, and we lived out in Great Neck, in a house we called “House Horrible,” a big old Victorian they rented while Dad was paying off the debt. That period, my parents went through pretty difficult times. My mother insisted on making sure that he cleared his debt, that they have good credit. That entailed a few arguments.
I think Debbie and Judi were about two when they moved down to Virginia, and he left for Florida when they were about thirteen. After my mom and dad got divorced, she moved to Florida, and eventually she lived in a place called Coral Ridge, and the house where my dad and Dottie lived was, as the crow flies, five hundred yards from my mother’s house. It was really strange. But in order to get to their house from my mom’s house, you had to drive four or five miles. Five hundred yards, but they couldn’t see each other. I stayed in touch with them, and every summer I spent about a month with them in Virginia, a little place called Carrolton. Then, my wife and I would see them in Florida.
Clyde: Billy and Dottie were moving from these condominiums by the ocean, in Fort Lauderdale. They had bought a house on the water, by the Intercoastal. I went over with a friend of mine to help them move. Billy was built like a bulldog. But I was 16, 17, an athlete, really strong, and my buddy was also. We were lifting all this furniture, and there was one piece that was really heavy. Billy went to grab one end of it, and I told him, “No, don’t do that, Mr. Butterfield, that’s really heavy!” and he looked at me and said, “Just pick it up.” And he picked that thing up like it was a feather. I was thinking, “All he does is play music. He can’t be that strong,” but he just picked it up. I was the one struggling with it.
You know, Judi and I dated all through high school, and then things happened, and we got back together twenty-five years later. I was always in love with her. I was married, and I loved my wife, and we had two children, but when I saw on the national news that her dad had passed away, in 1988, I wanted to get back in touch with Judi, but I didn’t know how. But Dottie always had a public number, it wasn’t unpublished, so I called Information. Billy had been deceased for a number of years, and I got her number and called her house. And when Dottie answered, I said, “You’ll never guess who this is,” and she said, “Of course I do. You want to bet?” I said, “Yes.” And she said, “This is Clyde.” I said, “Dottie, how do you remember that, after all these years?” and she said, “I’ll never forget your voice.” People didn’t have Caller ID then. So her mom helped reunite us.
Judi: Dottie lived a long time, to 92. She was something! She was a lot of fun. Daddy was very quiet, but she was very outgoing.
Clyde: They were a perfect husband and wife in that respect. And after Billy passed away, Dottie never wanted to remarry, because there was no man that could ever compare to him, even though she was still fairly young. She was never interested in meeting anyone, even though she was still beautiful and men were always asking her out. She was gorgeous and always dressed impeccably.
Judi: When he was a kid, he first started out playing the violin. I’m not sure about the story that he was going to become a doctor. I know he went to the University of Transylvania. His brother, Donald, was a doctor, and I think he was eleven years older than my father. I’m not sure what his specialty was, whether he was a brain surgeon – I think that’s what he was – but he went in to the military in World War One and it affected him so much that he couldn’t go back into practice. When Billy first started out, he was playing violin on a riverboat – earlier than 13, he was just a small kid, so that he could help his brother who was going through college. Hard times back then. His dad would drive him where he had to go, because he was too young to drive.
He was beyond talented. Most of his recordings were done in one take. But he didn’t talk about the music business, and he dissuaded us from ever going in to it, because he felt it was a very hard life. He never talked about himself, and he didn’t talk about other musicians. He would have some friends he would play with, Andy Bartha. When Andy was playing, my dad would go and be the headliner where Andy was. Yank Lawson was a good friend of Daddy’s. They were good friends from Bob Crosby’s band. You know with musicians, they all have big heads. Daddy wasn’t about that. I think that annoyed him a bit, because they always wanted to talk about themselves.
When he came home, he would read the paper, watch tv. We had a boat, wherever we lived, and he loved to go out on the boat. We always lived on or near the water, he loved that. He loved being around family.
Clyde: They had a pool, they’d be out there swimming, relaxing, cooking on the grill. Even when he was at home, a lot of times he would have local gigs, so he wouldn’t get home until late at night, but he always would get up to spend family time. He enjoyed his time at home for sure.
Judi: And he liked to watch golf. I can picture him in the reclining chair, watching golf on tv. He liked to play.
Pat: When I was small, a lot of musicians would come around. We spent a lot of time with Felix Giobbe, Bob Haggart, and a really good friend, Andy Ferretti. We were all members of the same country club in Brookville. My father was apparently a terrible golfer. He could hit it a long way, but he never knew what direction it was going in!
Judi: But he never really kept anything he ever did. Anything we have of his, besides the trumpets – my sister and I have all of them – he said, “I did it. Why would I want to hear it again?” We don’t have all the records. And pictures, we’ve had to buy off eBay. He was totally the opposite of anyone who was famous. Even when we were growing up, he didn’t want us to talk a lot about him. So we didn’t.
Clyde: The only album that he had out on display was an album he made with the Dutch College Swing Band. Out of all his recordings, that was the only one he had framed and put up on the wall. But he loved playing. That was his passion. Even though you’re on the road most of the time, travelling, he wouldn’t have given that up for anything.
The reason they moved to Florida was that when Jackie Gleason moved his show down to Miami Beach, he wanted Billy to be down there, and the arrangement was he would pay him X dollars a year so that when he was available, he would play in the Sammy Spear orchestra. When Billy wasn’t available, Jackie was fine with that.
You know, after Billy had moved down to Virginia, just so the girls could have their mother’s family around them, when he was on the road, he and Dottie were walking down Fifth Avenue in New York, and across the street, he heard, “Hey, Billy!” and he looked over and it was Dizzy. So Billy said, “Hey, Dizzy, how’re you doing?” And Dizzy yelled back, “Hey, what’s this I hear about you moving south of the Cotton Curtain?”
Judi: He walked around all the time with a mouthpiece in his pocket, and he would always take it out and blow in it. He had to keep his lip up, you know.
Clyde: He’d go out on the boat and he’d have it with him, even though he’d just played a gig. It was part of him. You have to keep your skills up.
Judi: I remember he played at Nixon’s inaugural ball. He was on the road a lot. Especially in the late Sixties, he was in Europe a lot. Jazz was very big in Europe. He played over there all the time. I got to go on a tour with him, with The Great Eight, in Germany, for three weeks. That was really cool. That was the first time I got to see him really play, outside of going to the Jackie Gleason Show, or the Merv Griffin Show. But this was actually being with the guys, and even they didn’t toot their own horns. These were gentlemen like Sam Woodyard, who had played with Duke Ellington, and Tal Farlow. It was a wonderful trip. I got to see how much the people really loved him. I never got to see that when I was growing up, so for me it was a real treat, and it gave me a real appreciation for my dad. I’ll never forget that. It was the trip of a lifetime. This was 1981-1982, something like that.
Clyde: Judi’s dad had his own nightclub for a time, in Fort Lauderdale, at the Escape Hotel. Andy Bartha had a standing gig at the Moonraker, and whenever he was off the road, he would always go there to support Andy. He got the album made with Andy, and he just liked the man personally. He was a very giving man. If he could help somebody out, he would. And he never had anything bad to say about anyone, because his premise was, if you don’t have anything good to say about someone, don’t say anything, instead of putting somebody down.
Judi: Yes, the only negatives we heard were from my mom (laughing), about other people, not my dad. He was a saint!
Pat: He was disappointed with the way the music industry went after the Fifties, but he really enjoyed the World’s Greatest Jazz Band, all the travelling they did together. I never heard him say anything negative about them, but he wasn’t the type to complain.
Clyde: Even now, sometimes I’ll be playing some of his music, and Judi will ask me to please turn it down, because she gets really emotional hearing her father.
Judi: STARDUST was my favorite record of his, but if I was around when he was playing, I would ask him to play MY FUNNY VALENTINE. He always played that for me. But my favorite album, I think, was BOBBY, BILLY, BRASIL. I had the reel-to-reel tape and would play it all the time. Dad wasn’t mechanical, so I was always the designated person to set up the tape recorder or the video. And I knew exactly where to stop the tape to get it to play SUNNY or whatever. They did really well with the harmony of that. I really loved it.
Pat: It’s unfortunate that he really didn’t take care of himself, and that had a big effect, that he died at what I think is a really early age, 71, and he was in pretty lousy health the last five years of his life. And Dad definitely drank. He functioned, though. He tended to be more of a binge drinker. He could go for a month and not have a drink, and then he’d drink a lot. But those days in New York when he was a staff member, they’d all go over to Nick’s in Greenwich Village, after the job was over, and have jam sessions, and that would result in his getting home very late at night, and he often fell asleep on the Long Island Rail Road. My mother would be there, waiting for him, and he wouldn’t get off the train because he was asleep, and he’d go all the way out to the end of the Island and come back. He spent the night on the train quite a few times.
Clyde: I wasn’t there, but I heard a story about their Virginia house. He had a good sense of humor. They were having parties at that house, and they had a big pool. And they’d all been partying, having fun, and Billy took his horn and walked down the steps of the pool, playing, and when he got underwater, the bubbles were all coming up. He was a lot of fun to be around.
Pat: He was a really genuine individual. He wasn’t impressed with his own self-importance. He enjoyed life.
I really appreciate the time and effort and kindness of Clyde Groves, Judi Butterfield Groves, and Pat Butterfield — helping me insure that no one will forget the very talented musician and very sweet man Billy Butterfield. More about Billy tomorrow!
Today, October 24, 2020, Dan Morgenstern celebrates his ninety-first birthday, and we celebrate him. He’s been an eager participant on the jazz scene since his mother took him to see Fats Waller and the Quintette of the Hot Club of France in 1939; he’s hung out with Louis, Billie, Duke, Lester, Bird, Miles, Stan, Rowles, and a hundred others; if there was a jazz event in New York, Boston, or Chicago in the last seventy years, chances are he was there and wrote about it. I could continue, but I’d rather let him speak for himself.
Since spring 2017, I’ve had the immense privilege of bringing my camera to Dan’s Upper West Side apartment and capturing his singular memories: you can find memorable ones on the blog. But for today, I offer two interview segments that have not been seen.
Dan talks about Ella:
Ella in 1936 with Teddy Wilson, Frank Newton, Bennie Morton, Jerry Blake, Teddy McRae, Leemie Stanfield, John Trueheart, and Cozy Cole:
and about Lena, Maxine, and Eva Taylor (I apologize for the ragged ending of the segment, but YouTube refused to let me be any neater):
Lena in 1941 with Teddy Wilson, Bennie Morton, Emmett Berry, Jimmy Hamilton, Johnny Williams, J.C. Heard:
Maxine in 1938 with Bobby Hackett, Bud Freeman, Chester Hazlett, and others:
Eva Taylor, 1926, with Clarence Williams and Charlie Irvis, others unidentified:
and fifty years later (!) with the Peruna Jazz Band:
We are so fortunate to have our Jazz Eminence, Mister Morgenstern, with us!
In front, Bobby Hackett, Louis Armstrong, George Wein; behind them, Joe Newman, Dizzy Gillespie — at the July 1970 celebration of Louis at the Newport Jazz Festival.
I saw the pleasing news on Facebook — and in an online source called CELEBRITY ACCESS, which summed it all up with a video and these words (if the New York Times had a front-page story, it eluded me, alas):
NEWPORT, RI (CelebrityAccess) — George Wein, the legendary pianist, jazz and festival promoter, turned 95 on Saturday.
Wein, who founded the Newport Jazz Festival and co-founded the Newport Folk Festival, also played a key role in the creation of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Wein’s birthday was marked by tributes from the likes of James Taylor, Senator Jack Reed, Dianne Reeves, Jason Moran, Nate Smith, and Ben Jaffe.
George deserves a little more fuss.
The Newport Jazz Festival, which he founded in 1954 — and is still a going concern — featured everyone. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Archie Shepp. Duke, Louis, Miles, Trane, Dizzy, Monk, Hamp, Benny, Billie, Roy, Hawk, Pres, Ben. What other festival featured both Donald Lambert and Sonny Rollins? If you didn’t appear at Newport — in its now sixty-six year span — you had died before it began [Bessie Smith, Charlie Parker, Frank Newton, Hot Lips Page] or you had missed your set. George’s reach was extensive and his tastes heroically inclusive. Those who never got to Rhode Island were nourished by recordings and performance film footage; George created tours — Europe and Japan — that brought the music to eager audiences who would otherwise not have partaken of it first-hand.
Before Newport, George had clubs in Boston: Storyville and Mahogany Hall, where you could enjoy Sidney Catlett, Stan Getz, Sidney Bechet, Lee Konitz, Erroll Garner, and other deities. When the Newport Jazz Festival took a brief trip to New York, as the Kool Jazz Festival or the JVC Jazz Festival, I was able to see Benny Carter, Allen Eager, Charles Mingus, Lee Wiley, Gene Krupa and others who gladden my heart. In the early Fifties, George also had a record label — Storyville — where you could hear Milli Vernon and Beryl Booker, Ruby Braff, Teddi King, Ellis Larkins, Johnny Windhurst and Jo Jones. I’m also reasonably sure that George’s generosity — not publicized, but apparent — kept some musicians in gigs and dinner for long periods.
Incidentally, I am doing all of this delighted salute from memory: George’s 2004 autobiography, MYSELF AMONG OTHERS, is a much more detailed view at almost six hundred pages, so I know I have left out a great deal for which George deserves praise.
George also loves to play the piano and to sing, and although I think those activities have slowed down or ceased in recent years, his pleasure in these activities emerged most fully in the Newport All-Stars, a group that at various times featured Tal Farlow, Pee Wee Russell, Buzzy Drootin, Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, Red Norvo, Norris Turney, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Bud Freeman, Slam Stewart, and others: George’s discography begins in 1951 and its most recent entry is 2012.
I’d like to offer some swinging evidence of George as pianist: not at his own festival in Newport, but at the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, in July 1977: a nearly nineteen-minute jam on TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, nominally under the leadership of clarinet legend Barney Bigard — featuring Jimmy Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpet; Clark Terry, trumpet and flugelhorn; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone; Slam Stewart, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums. Notice the atypically expansive piano solo that George creates at the start: percussive, surprising, mobile . . . and watch Barney Bigard’s delighted face at the end.
Happy birthday, George! Our lives would be much poorer had you chosen another career.
I am slowly getting back into 78-record collecting, thanks to Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera, and I emphasize “slowly”: no bidding wars, and many of the records I’ve purchased would be considered “common” by more well-established collectors, although I will — immodestly — begin with a picture of a record I treasure, bought a few years ago.
However, this post isn’t primarily about the recorded obsession. It is about the beauty of the ordinary: the paper sleeves once personalized by record stores. I saw an eBay site devoted to jazz records from Denmark, and was thrilled by the more ornate labels of the records themselves and the beautifully creative sleeves. There will be only three minutes of music on this post, but you can follow my lead to YouTube, where many of these recordings are waiting for your tender, approving touch. Today my subject is advertising art at its most sweetly distinctive.
The eBay seller I directed people to in April 2020 has stopped selling his wares, but he has begun compiling Danish shellac sleeves: see more here.
Tommy Ladnier, in high style:
Billie, originally on Commodore:
Louis, for my friend Katherine:
Hawkins, solo, a two-sided meditation:
This (below) is my absolute favorite of the whole series, and it it were not $10 for the Morton disc and $18 for the shipping, it would be on its way to me now. Please, someone, buy this so I don’t have to?
Ella and Louis:
Fats meets Freddy:
I don’t know the artist but could not resist the sleeve:
and here Aladdin points the way to swing:
I think ten of these beauties is enough for one post, but if there is interest, I have nineteen or twenty more sleeve-images to share with you. And would.
I promised you three minutes of music, so that no one would go to bed feeling deprived. Here’s REINCARNATION by Paul Mares and his Friars Society Orchestra : Paul Mares, trumpet; Santo Pecora, trombone; Omer Simeon, clarinet; Boyce Brown, alto saxophone; Jess Stacy, piano; Marvin Saxbe, guitar; Pat Pattison, string bass; George Wettling, drums — January 1935, Chicago:
It’s presumptuous of me to welcome Jess King — a warm-hearted swinging singer and banjo-guitarist-percussionist — to the world, since she has been making music in the Bay Area most happily for a time. But this is the first opportunity I have to post videos of her performance, so that could count as a welcome — to JAZZ LIVES, at least. [On Facebook, she’s Jessica King Music.]
I knew of her work for some time with Clint Baker’s All-Stars at Cafe Borrone, performances documented by Rae Ann Berry, and a few other lovely videos of Jess with hero-friends Nick Rossi and Bill Reinhart, and Jeff Hamilton at Bird and Beckett, have appeared in the usual places. . . such as here, which is her own YouTube channel. I am directing you there because there are — horrors! — other people with the same name on YouTube. The impudence.
In researching this post, however, I found that my idea of “welcome” above was hilariously inaccurate, because I had posted videos of Jess singing with Clint’s band at a Wednesday Night Hop on January 8, 2014. That’s a long time back, and I am not posting the videos here because she might think of them as juvenilia, but both she and I were in the same space and moment, which shows that a) she’s been singing well for longer than I remembered, and b) that it’s a good thing that I am wielding a video camera rather than something really dangerous, like a scissors. I tell myself, “It was really dark there. I apologize.”
But enough verbiage.
Jess herself is more than gracious, and when I asked her to say where she’d come from, she wrote, “I’d say I’m inspired by blues, traditional jazz, swing, Western swing, and r&b. Vocally, Barbara Dane has been a big influence on me. I also really love Una Mae Carlisle, Peggy Lee, Nat Cole, Bessie Smith, Anita O’Day, and of course Ella Fitzgerald. I grew up listening to a lot of Nat Cole, Patsy Cline, Aretha Franklin, and Lauren Hill. Random enough for ya? 😂 Clint Baker and Isabelle Magidson have both been so good to me as mentors and dear friends. They’re a huge part of my musical growth in this community.”
Here’s Jess, with Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, on March 8, 2020, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay (the four selections taken from two sets that day). The NOJB is Clint, trumpet; Ryan Calloway, clarinet; Riley Baker, trombone; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; [Jeff Hamilton is on ROSETTA]; Katie Cavera, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.
SAN FRANCISCO BAY BLUES:
HESITATIN’ BLUES (or HESITATING or HESITATION, depending on which sect you belong to, Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox):
and her gentle, affectionate take on SUGAR:
She has IT — however you would define that pronoun — and the instrumentalists she works with speak of her with admiration and respect. And when the world returns to its normal axis and rational behavior is once again possible, Jess has plans for her first CD under her own name. I suggested that the title be THE KING OF SING, but I fear it was too immodest for her. She makes good music: that is all I will say.
The eBay seller “jgautographs,” from whom I’ve purchased several marvels (signatures of Henry “Red” Allen, Rod Cless, Pee Wee Russell, Pete Brown, Sidney Catlett, among others) has been displaying an astonishing assortment of jazz inscriptions. I haven’t counted, but the total identified as “jazz” comes to 213. They range from “traditional” to “free jazz” with detours into related musical fields, with famous names side-by-side with those people whose autographs I have never seen.
As I write this (the early afternoon of March 21, 2020) three days and some hours remain.
Here is the overall link. Theoretically, I covet them, but money and wall space are always considerations. And collectors should step back to let other people have a chance.
The signers include Benny Carter, Betty Carter, Curtis Counce, Jimmy Woode, Herb Hall, Bennie Morton, Nat Pierce, Hot Lips Page, Rolf Ericson, Arnett Cobb, Vernon Brown, Albert Nicholas, Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Sammy Margolis, Ed Polcer, Ed Hall, Billy Kyle, Sam Donahue, Al Donahue, Max Kaminsky, Butch Miles, Gene Krupa, Ray McKinley, Earl Hines, Jack Teagarden, Arvell Shaw, Barrett Deems, Buck Clayton, Babs Gonzales, Benny Bailey, Joe Newman, Frank Wess, Pharoah Sanders, Kenny Burrell, Reggie Workman, Stanley Turrentine, Louis Prima, Wayne Shorter, Tiny Bradshaw, Harry Carney, Juan Tizol, Bea Wain, Red Rodney, Frank Socolow, Bobby Timmons, George Wettling, Roy Milton, Charlie Rouse, Donald Byrd, Kai Winding, Kenny Drew, Kenny Clarke, Steve Swallow, Shelly Manne, Frank Bunker, Charlie Shavers, Ben Pollack, Jess Stacy, Ron Carter, Bob Zurke, Jimmy Rushing, Cecil Payne, Lucky Thompson, Gary Burton, Jaki Byard, Noble Sissle, Muggsy Spanier, Don Byas, Pee Wee Russell, Slam Stewart, Hazel Scott, Ziggy Elman, Buddy Schutz, Ernie Royal, Boyd Raeburn, Dave McKenna, Claude Thornhill.
And signatures more often seen, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Marian McPartland, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day, Hoagy Carmichael, Artie Shaw, Sidney Bechet, Gerry Mulligan, Cab Calloway, Rosemary Clooney, Wynton Marsalis,Tommy Dorsey, Oscar Peterson, Billy Eckstine, Mel Torme, Chick Corea, Count Basie.
In this grouping, there are three or four jazz-party photographs from Al White’s collection, but the rest are matted, with the signed page allied to a photograph — whether by the collector or by the seller, I don’t know. And there seems to be only one error: “Joe Thomas” is paired with a photograph of the Lunceford tenor star, but the pairing is heralded as the trumpeter of the same name.
My head starts to swim, so I propose some appropriate music — sweet sounds at easy tempos, the better to contemplate such riches, before I share a half-dozen treasures related to musicians I revere.
Jess Stacy’s version of Bix Beiderbecke’s CANDLELIGHTS:
Harry Carney with strings, IT HAD TO BE YOU:
Lester Young, Teddy Wilson, Gene Ramey, Jo Jones, PRISONER OF LOVE:
Here are a double handful of autographs for your amazed perusal.
Charlie Shavers, name, address, and phone number:
Lucky Thompson, 1957:
Jimmy Rushing, 1970:
Hot Lips Page (authentic because of the presence of the apostrophe):
Benny Carter (I want to see the other side of the check!):
And what is, to me, the absolute prize of this collection: Lester Young, whom, I’m told, didn’t like to write:
Here’s music to bid by — especially appropriate in those last frantic seconds when the bids mount in near hysteria:
When I first met Mara Kaye, on the other side of the continent, about six years ago, she was a fervent advocate of “other people’s blues,” often the chansons of Victoria Spivey, Ida Cox, and Memphis Minnie. Happily she continues to perform these songs, but she’s also added wonderful swing classics to her repertoire, many harking back to the Billie Holiday recordings of the Thirties and early Forties.
Here’s one, quite famous, that she renders with swing, joy, and conviction — accompanied by a splendid group of improvising stars: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Arnt Arntzen, guitar; Jared Engel, string bass.
All of this happened at the end of a Cafe Bohemia Jazz Quartet gig — at the downtown home of happy sounds, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City. And I felt Irving, Fred, Ginger, Ella, and Louis looking on approvingly.
That music is good news to me. But the good news continues: tomorrow, Thursday, February 6, Mara will be returning to Cafe Bohemia, starting at 8 PM, joined by Jon-Erik Kellso, Brian Nalepka, string bass, and Tim McNalley, guitar, although so far it seems that the stairs are too narrow to allow Mara to bring that lovely bathtub.
Those who understand pleasure and enlightenment can buy tickets here.
I know my title must seem excessive, but what if it’s true? The young singer Lucy Yeghiazaryan has got it, and I’ve experienced it both on recording and in live performance. And if you think I am oddly subjective, you could also ask Greg Ruggiero or Michael Kanan, people whose opinion about singers is certainly trustworthy. Here’s a sample, from recent performances with Greg, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums:
and another standard:
Admire how much music she and her three esteemed colleagues pack into such short spaces (each of these performances could fit on one side of a 78 rpm recording, for the readers who understand that yardstick). She does everything well and with panache: she’s on pitch, her diction is splendid, she swings (!), her scat is not a series of formulaic ba-ba-ba‘s, her second choruses are not identical to her first, she lands on pitch, and . . . perhaps most important, she sends a message of ebullient joy. Not only is she having a good time, but she wants us to have one as well, and I don’t mean attempting to reach us by eccentric vocalizing or tricks, but by singing. Louis would say she has “more ingredients,” but they are subtly part of her recipe.
Here’s a soulful I WISH I KNEW (with Greg; Grant Stewart, tenor saxophone; Daniel Duke, string bass; Steve Williams, drums) where her voice has the quiet intensity of a great jazz soloist while she honors melody and lyrics:
Dramatic without dramatizing, as you hear. Here’s something from Fats:
The first fourteen seconds of that performance are delicious and what follows is no letdown. Lucy performs “old songs” with affection, not condescension; her phrasing is witty but gentle. She knows what the lyrics mean — the emotional script beneath the words — and although she’s absorbed the Great Singers, she’s not selling us musical knock-offs from a folding table on the street. (“Hey, gitcha Ella here! I gotta new Sarah, and some Anita just came in. No, all out of Billie. Come back Thursday.”)
You don’t need many more words from me. Her virtues are charming and consistently audible. And the good thing — for New Yorkers and other fortunate denizens — is that she’s performing often in a variety of contexts. Follow her on Facebook here; on the Smalls website, read a brief biography — she comes from someplace more distant even than Red Hook — and see her in performance.
But the best thing is to see her live (and buy the CD after). At the end of 2019, my dear friend Matt Rivera got me in to meet and hear Lucy at a fund-raiser in New Jersey. Her two brief sets were models of professional performance that wasn’t so rehearsed as to be stale. She chose fitting tempos, interacted beautifully with the band, spoke to the audience with deft politeness, knew her material perfectly but improvised freely within it . . . in short, she was a delight.
So, even though I have retired from teaching, I can still assign homework, and yours is to go see Lucy, before the ticket prices become too high, and you can tell your provincial friends that you discovered her. It can be our secret.
I think WHO’S SORRY NOW? (note the absence of the question mark on the original sheet music above) is a classic Vengeance Song (think of GOODY GOODY and I WANNA BE AROUND as other examples): “You had your way / Now you must pay” is clear enough. Instrumentally, it simply swings along. It seems, to my untutored ears, to be a song nakedly based on the arpeggiations of the harmonies beneath, but I may be misinformed. It’s also one of the most durable songs — used in the films THREE LITTLE WORDS and the Marx Brothers’ A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA — before being made a tremendous hit some twenty-five years after its original issue by Connie Francis. Someone said that she was reluctant to record it, that her father urged her to do it, and it was her greatest hit.)
Jazz musicians loved it as well: Red Nichols, the Rhythmakers, Frank Newton, Bob Crosby, Lee Wiley, Sidney DeParis, Wild Bill Davison, Harry James, Benny Goodman, Benny Carter, Eddie Heywood, Woody Herman, Buck Clayton, Sidney Bechet, Paul Barbarin, George Lewis, Big Bill Broonzy, Archie Semple, Charlie Barnet, Raymond Burke, Rosy McHargue, Oscar Aleman, the Six-and-Seventh-Eighths String Band, Kid Ory, Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Miff Mole, Hank D’Amico, Teddi King, Kid Thomas, Bob Scobey, Franz Jackson, Chris Barber, Matty Matlock, Bob Havens, Ella Fitzgerald, Armand Hug, Cliff Jackson, Ken Colyer, Jimmy Witherspoon, Jonah Jones, Capt. John Handy, Jimmy Rushing, Tony Parenti, Claude Hopkins, Jimmy Shirley, Bud Freeman, Ab Most, Benny Waters, Peanuts Hucko, Billy Butterfield, Kenny Davern, Humphrey Lyttelton, Bill Dillard, New Orleans Rascals, Barbara Lea, Allan Vache, Paris Washboard, Bob Wilber, Lionel Ferbos, Rosemary Clooney, Rossano Sportiello, Paolo Alderighi, Vince Giordano, Michael Gamble . . . (I know. I looked in Tom Lord’s online discography and got carried away.)
Almost a hundred years after its publication, the song still has an enduring freshness, especially when it’s approached by jazz musicians who want to swing it. Here’s wonderful evidence from Cafe Bohemia (have you been?) at 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, one flight down — on November 22, 2019: Ricky Alexander, tenor saxophone; Chris Gelb, drums; Daniel Duke, string bass; Adam Moezinia, guitar, and special guest Dan Block, tenor saxophone:
That was the penultimate song of the evening: if you haven’t heard / watched the closing STARDUST, you might want to set aside a brief time for an immersion in Beauty here. And I will be posting more from this session soon, as well as other delights from Cafe Bohemia. (Have you been?)
The nimble folks at “jgautographs” had their hands full of surprises . . . although their holdings range from Frederick Douglass to Marilyn Monroe to Irene Dunne, Stephen Sondheim, and Thomas Edison, it’s the jazz ephemera — no longer ephemeral — that fascinates me and others. Here’s a sampling, with a few comments. (The seller has many more autographs, from Sonny Rollins and Eubie Blake to Gene Krupa and Conrad Janis, so most readers of this blog will find something or someone to fascinate themselves.) For those who want(ed) to buy what they see here, the auction ended this evening: if you are curious, I bid and lost on the Ivie Anderson and Jimmy Rushing; I won the Henry “Red” Allen and will be giving showings at a future date. Check Eventbrite for tickets.
A number of the older autographs were inscribed to “Jack,” as you’ll see, and some of the newer ones to “Mark,” “Mark Allen,” and “Mark Allen Baker,” which led me on another path — more about the latter at the end of this post.
Husband and wife, very important figures in popular music, now perhaps less known. Arranger Paul Weston:
and warm-voiced Jo Stafford:
Yusef Lateef lectures Mark:
while Louie Bellson is much more gentle in his inscription:
Lady Day, to Jack:
and Billie’s former boss, who called her “William”:
Notice that the Count’s signature is a little hurried, which to me is proof of its on-the-spot authenticity, because artists didn’t always have desks or nice flat surfaces to sign autographs after the show. His calligraphy is in opposition to the next, quite rare (and in this case, quite dubious) signature:
Beautiful calligraphy, no? But Helen Oakley Dance told the story (you can look it up) that Chick was embarrassed by his own handwriting, and when Helen asked for an autograph, Chick said, no, his secretary should sign it because her handwriting was so lovely . . . thus making me believe that this paper was not in Chick’s hands. People who are less skeptical bid seriously on it, though.
Blossom Dearie, who arouses no such doubts:
And James Rushing, of that same Count Basie band:
I saw Mister Five-by-Five once, and his sound is still in my ears:
another Jimmy, happily still with us:
yet another Jimmy, playing at the Hotel Pennsylvania:
Would you care to join me for dinner?
Perhaps you’d like to meet both Dorsey Brothers?
and we could stay for the “Bombe Borealis,” whatever it looked like:
A woman I would have loved to see and hear, Miss Ivie Anderson:
She continues to charm:
and Cee Tee:
The wondrous Don Redman:
Ella, whose inscription is elaborate and heartfelt:
One of the million he must have signed:
Jim Hall, always precise:
One can’t have too many of these:
an influential bandleader and personality:
one of Lucky’s great stars — and ours — from an era when you noted what instrument the star played, even if you couldn’t quite spell it:
Here’s the musical background, in the foreground:
finally, something that deserves its own scenario, “Mister Waller, could I have your autograph?” “Of course, young lady. What’s your name?” “Mildred.”
which raises the question: was the bus ticket the spare piece of paper she had, or were they both on a Washington, D.C. streetcar or bus? At least we know the approximate date of their intersection:
Neither Fats nor Mildred can answer this for us anymore, but here is the perfect soundtrack:
Mark Allen Baker, in the pre-internet world I come from, would have remained a mystery — but I Googled his name and found he is a professional writer, with books on sports teams and boxing, but more to the point, on autograph collecting. So although I would have hoped he’d be a jazz fan, my guess is that his range is more broad. And the autographs for sale here suggest that he has found the answer to the question, “Why do you collect autographs?” — the answer being, “To hold on to them and then sell them,” which benefits us.
If you know jazz and popular music, and something about that part of New York City called Harlem, then you must know about the Apollo Theatre. And here are some lovely relics from it.
Here is the eBay link for one of these holy artifacts from 1938, 1942, and 1946. (You can find the other two with a click or two.) Wondrous pieces of paper that delineate a world of music so delicious it’s hard to imagine now. I’ve provided somewhat of an idiosyncratic soundtrack of artists who have appeared at the Apollo.
But here’s the evidence, first from 1938:
If you can read these pieces of paper without wishing, “Goodness, why wasn’t I born then?” you are operating on a different level of sentimentality and emotion. But for the rest of us, these are doors into wonderful universes.
Thomas “Spats” Langham is unmatched at what he does — and he does so many things superbly that it’s always a pleasure to encounter him. His energies, his sharp wit, his swing, his lyricism, his delightful acting: there are no blank spaces to fill in. I first met him at Mike Durham’s Classic Jazz Party in 2009, and he was a joy every year. So it’s a great happy surprise to see these four video performances from the Classic Jazz Concert Club in Sassenheim, the Netherlands, on October 27, 2018.
Mister Langham can be heard and seen here on guitar, banjo, ukulele, and vocals. He is joined by the delightful singer Emily Campbell; guitarist Danny Blyth; string bassist / sousaphonist Malcolm Sked; reed star Robert Fowler; percussion superhero Nick Ward.
TAKE ANOTHER GUESS was a hit in 1936 for Ella Fitzgerald and Helen Ward; here there are delightful vocal interpolations from the Combination:
Spats takes us on a wild romp through the song associated with Ukulele Ike, IT ALL BELONGS TO ME:
Emily comes back for BEI MIR BIS DU SCHOEN (with the verse, of course) — which is its own bowl of Swing borscht before long, with hints of SING SING SING in the clarinet-drums exploration:
Continuing the Asiatic nature of things, Spats sings EVER SINCE I KISSED HER ON THE VOLGA . . . make of that title what you will. I haven’t found out anything about this novelty, except to wonder what patrons at the back of the theater thought they heard of the title:
What a wonderful band. How rich an unexpected gift.
Paper ephemera — but hardly ephemeral — from a recent eBay expedition.
“SATCHMO,” to you, in an unusual newspaper photograph, sporting what looks like Playboy cufflinks, and a white belt.
and the reverse:
and something even more unusual: a copy of Sidney Finkelstein’s 1948 JAZZ: A PEOPLE’S MUSIC, translated into German, with signatures and candid photographs enclosed:
The “Daniel” is mysterious; it’s been attached to Louis’ first name in various canned biographies, but as far as I know he never used it himself, and that does not look like his handwriting. Unlike this uncomplicated signature:
and (I believe that’s Norman Granz on the left):
and the seller’s description:
Signed book `Jazz` (by Sidney Finkelstein), 200 pages – with four affixed unsigned candid photos (three of Ella Fitzgerald), 5 x 8,25 inch, first edition, publisher `Gerd Hatje`, Stuttgart 1951, in German, signed on the title page in blue ballpoint ink “Billie Holiday” – with an affixed postcard (Savoy Hotel): signed and inscribed by Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) in pencil “Daniel – Louis Armstrong” & signed by Buddy DeFranco (1923-2014) in blue ballpoint ink “Buddy DeFranco”, with scattered mild signs of wear – in fine to very fine condition.
Here‘s the seller’s link. Yours for $2492.03. Or the easy payment plan of $120 a month for 24 months. Plus $16.00 expedited shipping from Switzerland to the United States.
Once you’ve caught your breath, here’s something that was within my price range. Reader, I bought this — although I haven’t played it yet — a souvenir of the East Side New York jazz club, Gregory’s, where (among others) Ellis Larkins and Al Hall played . . . also Brooks Kerr, Russell Procope, and Sonny Greer; Mark Shane, Al Haig . . . .
Along with many of the faithful, I have been waiting and hoping since 2010 that this set would become a reality. When it arrived, I turned immediately to the fifth disc — one of a pair containing thirty-nine live performances by the Count Basie band from May 1938 to February 1940, and I was open-mouthed and astonished three minutes into the first performance (one of four particularly extravagant frolics from the Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing) — music that I thought I would never have the good fortune to hear.
Mosaic Records box sets usually have a similar effect on me, but this one is — as a character in a Sean O’Faolain story says — “beyond the beyonds.” And, as a point of information, the box set contains substantially more music than was released through iTunes downloads.
You can learn more and hear something Savory here.
This set is more than a dream come true: it feels like a whole freight train of them. In a postscript below, I’ve copied Loren Schoenberg’s list of the enlightened and generous people who this set possible. Full disclosures: one, I was asked to write a few hundred words for this set, and thus one of my dreams came true, and two, I bought mine — with my allowance.
A Savory Disc
I will write primarily about the Basie cornucopia, but it is true for the set.
Many listeners forget the distinction between music created and captured in a recording studio and the sounds played “live.” Many of the performances in the Mosaic box explode with happy ebullience. Some of that is the freedom to play without being stopped at three minutes and twenty seconds (I hear John Hammond’s voice saying “Too long, Basie!” at the end of a take that could not be issued at the time) — in fact, the freedom to play without any recording supervisor (Hammond, Oberstein, Stephens, Hanighen) or their disapproving presence (Jack Kapp’s wooden Indian) in the room: the freedom to make a mistake and convert it into something remarkable by proceeding on. Often, the recording studio is all we have or will ever have, but its stated and unstated restrictions can make for a chilly environment.
Some of the joy comes from playing from dancers — the radio airshots from the Randall’s Island festival are particularly frolicsome. And we can’t discount the freedom to have a drink or something to inhale.
On the Basie sides, so much is both new and reassuring. Lester Young, Dicky Wells, and Jo Jones sound like schoolboys who’ve been told the school has burned down. Herschel Evans, so passionate, is in wonderful form (here and elsewhere in the set). I can’t leave out Bennie Morton and Vic Dickenson, Buck Clayton, Sweets Edison, a particularly eloquent Jimmy Rushing, and Helen Humes’ most tender singing the lyrics to BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL.
I hear the arrangements anew — often, the Basie band is perceived as a springboard for soloists, and there’s much justification for that — but these airshots make it possible to hear the sections as if for the first time. (Also, it’s evident how the arrangements become more complex.) And the rhythm section! Before hearing these recordings, I didn’t take in that Jo Jones was still playing temple blocks in mid-1938, and it’s a common assumption that Freddie Green and Walter Page were going along in a serious 4/4, four quarter notes to the bar, but their work is full of wonderful variations, accented notes and syncopations. Even when a soloist closely follows the version created in the recording studio (some audience members wanted to “hear it the way it was on the record”) everything sounds joyous and free.
And since Bill Savory had professional equipment and the discs were splendidly restored by Doug Pomeroy, overall the recording quality is superb — far from the airshots we know recorded by a fan in the living room holding a microphone to the radio speaker to funnel sounds onto his Recordio disc. The sound is not only clear — one hears details and the gentle enthusiasm of the audience — but large. I can’t explain what “hearing the sound of the room” actually means, but there is a spaciousness that is delightful.
The new repertoire — not just Basie — is also a treat, as if we had been offered an audio equivalent to Bob Inman’s SWING ERA SCRAPBOOK . . . Basie performing RUSSIAN LULLABY (with Jimmy singing), ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, ROSETTA, LIMEHOUSE BLUES, and BUGLE CALL RAG.
To the other gems, some of which have already been well publicized: Coleman Hawkins’ six-minute rhapsody on BODY AND SOUL; Fats Waller at the Yacht Club — so revealing of what he was like as pianist, singer, personality, and entertainer — with dance medleys of songs by J.Fred Coots (a close friend) and Sammy Fain; windows into his world that the Victor sides never provide. Five minutes of young Ella; the Martin Block Jam session with the painfully lovely STARDUST featuring an ailing Herschel Evans; another Block session featuring Eddie Condon, Pee Wee Russell, Bud Freeman, Zutty Singleton, Charlie and Jack Teagarden, and Fats; Mildred Bailey singing TRUCKIN’ with the verse; Leo Watson taking on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE with the John Kirby Sextet and JEEPERS CREEPERS with Johnny Mercer; pearly Bobby Hackett, more from Joe and Marty Marsala, who didn’t get to record enough; Stuff Smith; Ben Webster, Albert Ammons, Chick Webb, Albert Ammons, Carl Kress and Dick McDonough, Ernie and Emilio Caceres, Roy Eldridge, Stew Pletcher, Ram Ramirez, Red Norvo, Teddy Bunn, Kenneth Hollon, Vernon Brown, Milt Hinton; Lionel Hampton, Charlie Shavers, Cozy Cole, Buster Bailey, Joe Thomas, George Wettling, Ed Hall, Carmen Mastren (with several long solos!), Jonah Jones, new music from the here-and-gone Teddy Wilson big band, the wondrous Benny Carter ensemble, and Glenn Miller; a set of four solo piano improvisations by Joe Sullivan, one of them ten minutes long — a true picture of the artist as a barrelhouse Joyce, wandering brilliantly. And I am sure I’ve left someone out.
These six CDs are the Arabian Nights of swing, documents of a time and place where magic came out of your radio all the time.
I think it is obvious that I am urging listeners to purchase this set while they can. But I must modulate to another key — that is, to quietly comment on the culture of entitlement, which, sadly, also infects people who love this music. When some of the Savory material was issued on iTunes, some complained, “I don’t do downloads.” Now that it is all — plus more music — available on CD, I’ve heard some whinge, and yes, that is the right word, that they don’t want to buy this box set for various reasons. Some think, incorrectly, that the six discs of the box have only what was released on iTunes, which is incorrect. Check the Mosaic discography.
I’ve even heard people being petulant, “Why doesn’t this set include X or Y?” not understanding that the artists’ estates were paid for the music — think of that! a legitimate reissue! — and that some estates wanted extravagant reimbursement.
Consider what this set offers — rarities never even dreamed of — and do some simple math, how much each prized track costs the purchaser. And, on another level, what you would pay to keep Mosaic Records afloat. I know that, say, ten years ago, if you’d told me I could have thirty-nine new Basie performances for slightly more than a hundred dollars, I would have leaped at the opportunity, and I am no plutocrat. Of course, one is free to ruminate and grumble . . . but this is a limited edition of 5000 sets. Expect to see Savory boxes on eBay for $500 in a few months. You’ve been warned.
The National Jazz Museum in Harlem’s The Savory Collection Mosaic CD set has been issued after many years of planning. Many people were a part of the team who made it possible. Let’s start with Sonny McGown, who led me to the late Gene Savory, Bill’s son. Jonathan S. Scheuer, long-time board member of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, purchased the collection and donated it to the museum. Frank Rich helped spread the word, as did Ken Burns, and within a few months, the Savory story graced the front page of the NYTimes. Fellow board member and attorney Daryl Libow stepped right in to handle all the myriad legal challenges. Doug Pomeroy rescued all that was salvageable from the discs. Dr. Susan Schmidt-Horning had interviewed and written about Bill and gave us lots of help from the academic/acoustic realms. Garrett Shelton was invaluable at iTunes for the initial releases, as was Ken Druker and the production team he assembled to make all of that happen. Samantha Samuels created first-class promo videos for us, and then Scott Wenzel, to whom the jazz world owes a huge debt for his unflagging production of the Mosaic catalogue (along with the rest of the Mosaic team, read: Michael Cuscuna and Fred Pustay) hopped back aboard to bring this collection to fruition; he had been there at the git-go, joining me and Kevin Cerovich in Malta, Ill., to catalogue and drive the discs to NYC.
The album is graced by essays of some of the finest writers out here, starting with Dan Morgenstern and Ricky Riccardi, Tom Piazza, David Fletcher, Michael Steinman, Vincent Pelote, Anthony Barnett, James Carter, Ethan Iverson, and Kenny Washington.
And none of the music would have been issuable without the cooperation of the artist’s estates, and the dedication of the board and staff of The National Jazz Museum in Harlem. So it’s been a long haul, well worth the wait; here’s hoping Bill Savory would be pleased.
Teddy Wilson was soft-spoken and reticent, so this is a rare interlude, a 1950 radio interview (from WNYC) by Ralph Berton, a good prelude to the recent banquet of Teddy’s recordings on Mosaic Records:
I’ve been waiting for this set every since I heard rumors of it, and it has not disappointed me in the slightest.
But I must start with a small odd anecdote. Like many, I have a mildly unhealthy attachment to Facebook, and when this set entered the emotionally-charged world of FB dialogue, one jazz fan said that he was waiting to read the reviews before purchasing it. It was as if he had said, “I hear about this writer Toni Morrison. I want to read some reviews before buying one of her books.” Substitute “Brahms” or “Modigliani” or “Connee Boswell” and you get the idea. Cue rueful laughter.
Readers of this blog know how fervently I support Mosaic Records (and I don’t get copies for free) so I offer correctives to misperceptions of Wilson and, by extension, the recordings in this box set.
Wilson gets less praise than he deserves, because of unavoidable events in his life and the lives of his contemporaries. One is the looming dramatic presence of Billie Holiday, without debate one of the finest artists in the music but also someone (like Charlie Parker) wrapped in a mythology that blots out those associated with her. The recordings in this set do not have Miss Holiday, so some listeners might perceive them as second-string. True, so far there has been no coffee-table book chronicling a week in the life of, say, Boots Castle. But the singers here are never inept, and some of them — Helen Ward and Nan Wynn, with brief appearances by Ella and Lena (!) — are memorable. Removing Lady Day from the equation makes it possible to actually savor the instrumental performances, and they are consistently remarkable.
His greatest public exposure was as a sideman with Benny Goodman, and the Trio and Quartet records are splendid. But being typecast as the hero’s friend in the movies is not the same as being the hero. I am sure that Wilson could claim a better salary from 1935 on, but it took some time for him to be understood for his own virtues. And there was always Fats Waller and Art Tatum — talk about looming presences.
Wilson’s consistency has, perversely, made him a quiet figure in jazz hagiography. From his introduction to Louis’ 1933 WORLD ON A STRING to his last recordings in 1985, he was recorded so often that there is a feeling of abundance and perhaps over-abundance. There is no single monumental recording — no WEST END BLUES, no BODY AND SOUL, no SHOE SHINE BOY — to bow down to. (Something of the same fate — almost a punishment for excellence — has befallen Benny Carter, for one.) Some have reduced Wilson to caricature: a medium-to-uptempo sliding right-hand piano arpeggio; true, that some of his late performances were beautifully-done but cast in bronze, with few surprises. I wish his detractors might spend an afternoon with a transcribed solo and see how easy it is to reproduce even four bars of it.
He was always himself — balancing elegance and passion — and the recordings in this set are so consistently rewarding that they tend to overwhelm the listener who sits down to ingest them in large gulps. Not for the first time in reviewing a Mosaic box, I have wanted to compel listeners to take the contents as they were offered in 1936: two sides at a time, no more than once a week. In this way, even an “average” side — say, SING, BABY, SING — emerges as marvelously multi-layered. I will point out that these sessions were intended to be “popular” and thus ephemeral: records to be listened to on jukeboxes at a nickel a side: current tunes, music to dance to. I suspect the musicians were paid scale and went home with the idea that they had made some extra money, not that they had made Great Art. They’ve been proven wrong, but in the nicest ways.
The music impresses and moves me on several levels. One is that it is operating at a high level of excellence, hugely professional and still charmingly individualistic. Everyone’s voice is heard: Buster Bailey, Mouse Randolph, Cozy Cole. There are no dull solos; the swing is wondrous, never mechanical. The ensemble playing is the easy mastery of people who play in sections night after night and thus know all there is about ensemble dynamics and blending — but who are also feeling the pleasure of loose improvising amidst respected colleagues. The three-minute concertos are dense with musical information but are easy to listen to, apparently simple until one tries to mimic any part. The soloists are a cross-section of worthies, a list of them too long to type. Check the Mosaic discography.
In addition, the singers — who range from merely excellent on up — are charming reminders of a time when “jazz” and “pop music” were comfortable with one another. Imagine a time when young and old could hear a new recording of a song from a new Bing Crosby movie (let’s say LAUGH AND CALL IT LOVE) and appreciate it, appreciate a Jonah Jones solo — all on the same aesthetic plane. The most creative improvising was accepted as wonderful dance music, an exalted period where highbrow and lowbrow met, where snobberies were not so deeply ingrained, and certainly the audience was not fragmented and sectarian.
The result is an amiable perfection: I never want to edit a passage on a Wilson record. Perhaps paradoxically, I also understand why Bird, Dizzy, and Monk — who admired Wilson and his colleagues deeply — felt the need to go in different directions. What more could one create within this form? How could one’s swing and improvisation of this type be more perfect?
Eight decades later, these records still sound so buoyant, so hopeful. The news from Europe was grim, and became more so. But in the face of apocalypse, these musicians swung, sang tenderly, and gave us reason to go on.
I first heard Wilson early in my jazz apprenticeship; he was one of the first musicians, after Louis, to catch my ear. Blessedly, I saw him in person several times in 1971-4, and I bought the records I could find — the French “Aimez-vous le jazz?” of his 1935-7 solos, the later Columbia two-lp sets of the small groups issued here and in Japan, Jerry Valburn’s Meritt Record Society discs. When compact discs took over, I bought the Classics and Neatwork, the Masters of Jazz compilations. However, I can write what I have written before: this Mosaic box offers music that I’ve never heard before, in splendid sound.
I’ve written elsewhere on JAZZ LIVES of my strong feeling that Mosaic Records is a noble enterprise. Supporting their efforts is that rare double reward: a moral act that offers deep rewards. So I won’t belabor that point here. If you insist that everything should be for free online, that view that troubles me, especially if you expect a salary for the work you do. But I will leave that to others to argue.
I confess that I am writing this review early, rather than waiting until I’ve arrived at the last track of the seventh disc — I have been savoring the earliest sides over and over. And I have been appreciating Loren Schoenberg’s especially fine liner notes — over and above his unusually high standard! — for their subtleties and research. And the photographs. And the splendid transfers. I haven’t even gotten to the unissued sides at the end of the package: 2018 is still young.
For more information, go here— either to purchase this limited edition while it is still available. Or, so the people who say, “Well, how many unissued sides are there in this box? Is it a good value? I already have a lot of this material already,” can make up their own minds. Those unaware of the beauty of this music can be amazed.
And those who, like me, look at this music as a series of aesthetic embraces, can prepare themselves for seven compact discs of joy and surprise, music both polished and warm.
Let us revisit 2010 for a brief tour of the Bill Savory Collection, with commentary by two of our heroic benefactors, Loren Schoenberg and Doug Pomeroy.
And from another angle, this 2016 article tells the tale.
Starting in 2016, through iTunes, listeners have been able to purchase and savor four volumes of downloaded music: featuring Coleman Hawkins, Fats Waller, John Kirby, Jack Teagarden, Joe Marsala, Leo Watson, Teddy Wilson, Glenn Miller, Bobby Hackett, Ella Fitzgerald, Carl Kress, Dick McDonough, Ernie Caceres, Vernon Brown, George Wettling, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Shavers, Roy Eldridge, Benny Carter, Charlie Teagarden, Milt Hinton, Albert Ammons, Chick Webb, Joe Sullivan, Joe Bushkin, Ben Webster . . . and — for some of us — the great treasure of live Count Basie with Lester Young and Herschel Evans. I’ve written a preview of Volume Four here. It’s been the soundtrack for the past few days.
I and other collectors have heard rumors — whispered four-bar breaks — that in our lifetimes Mosaic Records would arrange to issue more of the Savory material on compact discs, and that blissful fantasy has taken shape.
In February 2018, a six-disc set will be released: $99 plus shipping. As always, it will be a limited edition of 5000 copies. It will have gorgeous photographs and the extensive annotation Mosaic is known for: most of the prose coming from Loren Schoenberg, but with some writers sitting-in: David Fletcher, Anthony Barnett among them.
Here you can read more. And here is my definition of auditory bliss.
The four volumes of iTunes downloads offered 76 tracks. The Mosaic box will contain 108 tracks: the new music will be by Mildred Bailey, Stuff Smith, Joe Sullivan, and Count Basie — 39 tracks by Basie alone. (That’s eighteen new Basie tracks, four of them from the legendary Randall’s Island swing festival.) Two of the Sullivan solo piano improvisations are astounding creative rambles: one is ten minutes long, the other seven. Incidentally, many performances are longer than the three-minute-and-some-seconds limit of the 78 records of the time; most of them are in far superior sound.
I didn’t take any college courses in Marketing, and I don’t make my living in retail, but this post is an open advertisement for the set, and for Mosaic Records in general. (I’ve purchased my Savory box set — full price, should you need to know.) Since the iTunes downloads started to appear, I’ve read vituperative blurts from some collectors who “hate Apple” and others who want to know when the music will appear on CD. Now, fellows (I am gender-specific here for obvious reasons), now’s the time to convert words into action.
If others of you are under economic pressures, which are — as we know — so real, pardon my words and go to the “auditory bliss” section of this post and enjoy what’s there. If the kids need braces or the car a new battery, all bets are off. Those who fulminate on Facebook because the set offers no performances by X Orchestra or Y should know that not all the heirs and estates of the musicians Savory recorded have agreed to permit music to be issued.
However, if there were to be the groundswell of support that this set deserves, some people who are currently saying NO to issuing music might change their tune to a more expansive YES. And I believe fervently that Mosaic Records deserves our support. In an age where people sitting in front of their monitors, expecting everything for free, some enterprises cost money. (I come from that generation where not everything was easily accessible, so I appreciate this largesse from my heart.)
So consider this post encouragement to purchase the long-awaited six-disc set. Feast your eyes on the track listing and soon you will be able to feast your ears.
COLEMAN HAWKINS: 1. Body And Soul (X) (5:51) / 2. Basin Street Blues (X) (5:50) / 3. Lazy Butterfly (X) (1:03)
ELLA FITZGERALD: 4. A-Tisket, A-Tasket (II) (2:22) / 5. (I’ve Been) Saving Myself For You (II) (2:50) /
FATS WALLER: 6. Yacht Club Swing (theme and intro) / Hold My Hand (RR) (3:39) / 7. I Haven’t Changed A Thing (RR) (3:56) / 8. (Medley): Summer Souvenirs / Who Blew Out The Flame? (RR) (5:38) / 9. (Medley): You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby / Sixty Seconds Got Together (RR) (3:44) / 10. I’ve Got A Pocketful Of Dreams (RR) (2:26) / 11. When I Go A-Dreaming (RR) (2:50) / 12. Alligator Crawl (RR) (1:38) / 13. The Spider and the Fly (RR) (2:40) /
LIONEL HAMPTON JAM SESSION: 14. Dinah (7:01) / 15. Star Dust (2:58) / 16. Chinatown, My Chinatown (2:25) / 17. Blues (9:52) / 18. Rosetta (4:06) /
CARL KRESS & DICK McDONOUGH: 19. Heat Wave (EE) (2:20)
EMILIO CACERES TRIO: 20. China Boy (S) (2:26)
ALBERT AMMONS: 1. Boogie Woogie Stomp (A) (3:03)
ROY ELDRIDGE: 2. Body And Soul (II) (4:23)
ROY ELDRIDGE / CHICK WEBB: 3. Liza (II) (2:03)
FATS WALLER: 4. Honeysuckle Rose (QQ) (6:31) / 5. China Boy (QQ) (5:57) / 6. I’m Comin’ Virginia (QQ) (4:35) / 7. Blues (QQ) (5:24) / 8. I Got Rhythm (QQ) (2:05) /
JOHN KIRBY: 9. From A Flat To C (CC) (2:39) / 10. Blues Petite (DD) (3:43) / 11. Front And Center (AA) (2:50) / 12. Effervescent Blues (Z) (2:43) / 13. Minnie The Moocher’s Wedding Day (DD) (2:23) / 14. Echoes of Harlem (Z) (3:36) / 15. Boogie Woogie (BB) (2:56) / 16. Milumbu (Z) (3:23) /17. Rehearsin’ For A Nervous Breakdown (CC) (3:27) /18. Honeysuckle Rose (Y) (1:07)
BENNY CARTER: 19. More Than You Know (T) (4:26) / 20. Honeysuckle Rose (T) (1:21) /
JOE SULLIVAN AND HIS CAFE SOCIETY ORCH.: 21. China Boy (MM) (1:28)
JOE MARSALA: 1. Jazz Me Blues (FF) (5:26) / 2. California, Here I Come (FF) (6:53) / 3. When Did You Leave Heaven? (FF) (7:21) / 4. The Sheik Of Araby (FF) (4:42) /
BOBBY HACKETT: 5. Body And Soul (U) (2:12) / 6. Embraceable You (V) (2:48) / 7. Muskrat Ramble (V) (2:09) /
JACK TEAGARDEN: 8. Honeysuckle Rose (PP) (5:04) / 9. Jeepers Creepers (PP) (6:10) /
MILDRED BAILEY: 10. My Melancholy Baby (B) (3:41) / 11. Truckin’ (B) (2:41) / 12. Rockin’ Chair (theme) / More Than You Know (C) (4:14) / 13. The Day I Let You Get Away (C) (2:08) /
STUFF SMITH: 14. Crescendo In Drums (KK) (3:57) / 15. I’se A’ Muggin (JJ) (2:28) /
Photograph of some of Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders by Sandlin Gaither. Musicians on the record but (very sadly) not pictured: Laura Windley, Lucian Cobb, Dave Wilken, Jason DeCristofaro.
Even for those who are as fortunate and entitled as I am, this world can seem like a tough place. In the past two weeks, I’ve had conversations with men and women about various remedies: prescriptions for anti-depressants, brisk walks in the sunshine and yoga, finding the truth in Jesus, living a Buddhist or a Judaic life, Louis Armstrong, hugging, coffee, and more.
All of this is true, and not invented for the purposes of a nifty opening paragraph. If something works for you, I would be a mean-spirited fool to mock it. I find the most evident manifestations of beauty, of joy, of love, in music.
I write to call your attention to a wondrous new CD by Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders, titled GET RHYTHM IN YOUR FEET. I know that title may seem to some a plain encouragement to dancers — feel the groove, get up on the floor (but watch your floorcraft!) and Swing. But for me it means so much more.
First of all, any band that uses a song by the Blessed Alexander Hill to announce themselves is already deep in righteousness. Hill gave himself to the music wholly and is thus a minor deity in my world, and the song says (better than I will do it here) that your ills can be cured by embracing rhythmic music.
The new CD not only says this truth; it embodies it. Had you been able to peek in my window a few hours ago while I was playing it again to write this blogpost, you would have seen me grinning and clapping my hands to the music. It’s that joyous and that right. For those who want to skip to the punchline, you can purchase the disc — in a number of ways — here. Of course, the ideal way would be to be present at a Rhythm Serenaders’ gig (even, if like me, you flunked ballroom dancing) and buy copies from the band / the leader. Here is the band’s schedule, so you can see if they are coming to a nicely polished wooden floor near you.
As a relevant digression, hereis what I wrote about the Serenaders’ first CD.
“Why is Michael so excited about yet another ____________ CD?” some of you might be muttering to yourselves. This one sounds deeply genuine, a very honest evocation of, say, 1935-45. The band knows the original 78s but isn’t copying them in every aspect. The (flexible) tempos seem right, never stiff or too far forward into the beat. The band isn’t in a hurry to get to the end of the number. The arrangements cheer and inspire; they aren’t little prisons. The music breathes, is alive, is human — created by real musicians who live in the twenty-first century but who venerate the music of the great Ancestors with every cell of their bodies. The band can play as hot as you’d want, but they have a tender side (MEMORIES OF YOU) which I cherish as well. The band has a wonderful rhythm section, delicious ensemble playing, fine soloists, and one of my favorite singers, Laura Windley, whose voice is like the pleasure I take from my first bite into a splendid local apple: just the right mix of crisp, tart, sweet.
And ths CD passes the JAZZ LIVES test: when I come to the last song, I start it up again.
Now for some details: the musicians are Michael Gamble, string bass, arrangements, leader; Jonathan Stout, guitar; Keenan McKenzie, reeds; James Posedel, piano; Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Russ Wilson, drums; Noah Hocker, trumpet; Josh Collazo, drums; Gordon Au, trumpet; Jason DeCristofaro, vibraphone; Laura Windley, vocal; Lucian Cobb, trombone; David Wilken, trombone. (Not everyone plays on every track, but you’ll have to buy the CD to figure out who’s on the stand at any given time.)
The songs: GET RHYTHM IN YOUR FEET / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / ON THE ALAMO / IT’S TOO HOT FOR WORDS / NAPPIN’ JOHN / GOT A PEBBLE IN MY SHOE / WHOA, BABE! / OH, LADY BE GOOD! / RIGAMAROLE / HOW COULD YOU? / DOWN HOME JUMP / DON’T MEDDLE IN MY MOOD / BREAKFAST FEUD / MISS BROWN TO YOU / DON’T BE THAT WAY / MEMORIES OF YOU. (Scholars will note the homage to Teddy, Billie, Benny, Ella, Chick, and Charlie . . . but also to Willie Bryant, Lionel, Cootie, Basie. Gamble knows his Swing.)
And here’s what Michael Gamble has to say about the CD — modest and perceptive:
For the second record, I wanted to showcase a hotter, older repertoire than the first, and to particularly hone in on songs that would’ve been known to dancers of the mid-to-late thirties: An imaginary “must-have” collection of greatest hits for lovers of the Lindy Hop, Charleston, Balboa, Slow Drag, Shag; all the Peabody and One Step dancers, Savoy Ballroom regulars as well as followers of the Tin Pan Alley hit factories. Stomp tunes such as “Rigamarole” (by bandleader, early jazz disc jockey, and so-called “Mayor of Harlem” Willie Bryant) – a blazing tempo hop-across-the-coals for Jitterbugs of all stripes. Riff-fests like “Down Home Jump” and “Whoa, Babe!” (recorded by pioneering jazz vibraphonist Lionel Hampton) that served no higher purpose than to pull people onto the dance floor as if hypnotized by that infectious sound.
The other thing I tried to do was to serve up a sweet sample of some of the most beautiful songwriting from that time period, using as a jumping-off point the repertoire Benny Goodman seemed to hold onto over the years as his “cool down” pieces and small group features for himself. Tunes like “On the Alamo” and “Memories of You” are elegant demonstrations of the nostalgic sound that become popular as the Great Depression was winding down. The sentimental-but-smart elocution Laura Windley brings to the band pays respect to vocal performances by Kay Starr, Helen Ward, and of course Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, each of whose work is lovingly represented here.
Nothing more needs to be said, except this exhortation: Buy this CD. Whatever your mood, it will improve it.
Truman “Pinky” Tomlin, singer, composer, bandleader, film star
Everyone reading JAZZ LIVES could, with not much effort, compile a list of a dozen well-known and rewarding jazz recordings. Your list might be entirely different, but I feel that we would recognize the names of most, if not all, of the entries. But what continues to delight me is the wonderful music to be found on recordings that don’t get any attention, those beneath the surface of the collective attention.
One such record is a recent purchase from eBay, and it’s repaid its original price (perhaps $2.99?) a dozen times over, even though its star, Oklahoma-born “Pinky” Tomlin, would not be at the top of many people’s lists.
The record isn’t listed in Tom Lord’s or Brian Rust’s discography, although the records Pinky made with (among others) Joe Sullivan and Joe Haymes are. Make of this what you will, but two sides made at the same session — SMILES and THE OLD OAKEN BUCKET — are listed (and thus certified as Official Jazz Records) although they are less memorable: I bought that disc also from eBay.
The orchestra is directed by Harry Sosnik, and features Pinky with Mannie Klein, trumpet; Andy Secrest, cornet; Abe Lincoln, trombone; Jack Mayhew, clarinet; Claude Kennedy, piano; Perry Botkin, guitar; Slim Jim Taft, string bass; Spike Jones, drums. It was recorded in Los Angeles, April 23, 1938.
Those are illustrious names; some readers will notice that the band is close to the group that accompanied Mr. Crosby and Mr. Mercer on their version of the Gallagher-and-Shean vaudeville routine in July of that year: the evidence here. I suspect that more than a few worked in radio and were known as the best “studio” musicians on the West Coast. The one unknown in this band, pianist Kennedy, I found out through reading Pinky’s autobiography, THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION (his best-known composition) was a friend and musical colleague of Pinky’s from Oklahoma. (Just because you might be wondering, Truman Tomlin got his nickname early on because of his complexion.)
I wonder if this session was another of Jack Kapp’s crossover ideas, joining hot jazz, swing, and Western swing, to support Pinky, already well-known on radio and films. Had Kapp noticed the success of Maxine Sullivan’s LOCH LOMOND, a swing version of a traditional song, or Ella Logan’s efforts (in all those cases, no composers to pay)?
But enough words. Feast your ears (and, yes, there is authentic surface noise, because the original owner of this record played it often).
RED RIVER VALLEY:
These sides are fun, and that comes from their ease, the sweet balance between Pinky’s sincere Oklahoma voice, not trying to “get hot” except for the one upwards Bing-meets-Louis scat phrase on RED WING. He’s telling us stories, and he’s completely earnest but never stiff. Sosnik wasn’t always so swinging on other Deccas that bear his name, but the arranged passages are right on target, and it’s especially pleasant that the endings on both sides aren’t histrionic, but wind down gently. Secrest plays beautifully, but it’s the band that charms me — its unsung heroes being Perry Botkin and Spike Jones, who certainly swung.
“It’s not in the discography, so it can’t be jazz.” But it’s rewarding music.
I find myself charmed by Pinky: he seems guileless, someone who is being rather than acting. Two more examples: one, from a 1937 film, where he, like Bing, seems to say to a viewer, “I’m on the screen, singing, and putting clothing into a trunk. But you could do this, too.”:
Two decades later, Pinky faces Groucho, his essential sweetness intact:
A few words about THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION. I read in Pinky’s autobiography how the song was a spur-of-the-moment creation that grew from the casual phrase that was its title. But it has deep jazz credentials: Ella sang it early, and later in life, when she and Pinky were together at some public function, went out of her way to express her gratitude.
Three versions, each showing the song’s durability and emotional appeal. First, Carl Switzer:
Helvetia, Connie, and Martha:
Garnet Clark, Bill Coleman (“from brown to rosy red”), June Cole, George Johnson, Django: