Tag Archives: Emmett Miller

“ALOHA.”

rich-conaty-portrait

RICH CONATY 1954-2016

In the history of jazz, people who do not play instruments do as much, in different ways, to sustain the art without getting equal credit. Think of Milt Gabler, George Avakian, Henry Sklow, Norman Granz, George Wein, Whitney Balliett, Nat Hentoff, and other catalysts. Then there are broadcasters. “Broadcasting” meant something even before radio and television: spreading something widely, effectively: a newsboy shouting the headlines or a farmer distributing seed over a field. Jazz radio broadcasters — in previous decades Martin Block, Art Ford, Fred Robbins, Sid Torin; in our time Ed Beach, John S. Wilson, Phil Schaap, Dan Morgenstern, Alisa Clancy, Linda Yohn and many others – do more than play records. They become our friends, teachers, and benefactors. We look forward to their voices, personalities, and insights. Before there was streaming radio, we arranged our schedules around them; we tape-recorded their programs, which became sweet swinging libraries, introducing us to new artists or rare records.

Rich Conaty, who died of cancer on December 30, 2016, gave his energy and ultimately his life in the reverent and delighted service of the music he loved: the pop and jazz of the teens, Twenties, and Thirties, roughly 1911-1939. For forty-four years, he shared that music on a Sunday-night broadcast on Fordham University’s radio station, WFUV-FM (90.7). Rich’s THE BIG BROADCAST, named in homage to the 1932 film with Bing Crosby, Eddie Lang, the Boswell Sisters, Arthur Tracy, Cab Calloway, and others, was a consistent pleasure.

Rich was enchanted by this music when he was thirteen or fourteen, began broadcasting as a high school student on New York’s Hofstra College radio station. When he had to choose a college, he picked Fordham University because of its radio station, and beginning in January 1973, was on the air every Sunday night, live perhaps fifty weeks every year, taping shows in advance when he went away, perhaps to visit his mother in Florida.

Early on, Rich formed an alliance with Vince Giordano, leader of the Nighthawks, and these two did more to introduce this music to a wider, younger audience than perhaps anyone. Rich said that his program was “for the old and the old at heart,” for his humor was sharply wry (occasionally painfully self-deprecating) but he was most happy to learn that some seventeen-year old was now collecting Chick Bullock 78s or had fallen in love with Lee Wiley. He had other interests – vintage Nash automobiles, cats, and other kinds of vintage pop culture – but was devoted to the music and musicians above all.

Listening to Rich for decades, I was able to trace the subtle development of a scholarly intelligence.  Years ago, his library of recordings was small (as was mine) so he played the Mills Brothers’ TIGER RAG frequently.  As he became the person and the scholar he was meant to become, his awareness, knowledge, and collection deepened.

We’ve heard earnest but ignorant radio announcers – those who call the Ellington clarinetist “Barney Biggered,” or the King of Jazz “Paul White Man,” but Rich knew his music, his musicians, and his history. Every show, he created tributes to musicians, songwriters, and other figures whose birthday he would celebrate: not just Bix, Bing, Louis, Jolson, Annette; his enthusiasm for songwriters and figures, once renowned, now obscure, was astonishing. He had interviewed Bob Effros, Edward Eliscu, Ben Selvin, and Vet Boswell on the air; he was friends with Dolly Dawn, had gotten drunk with Cab Calloway. Connee Boswell sang HAPPY BIRTHDAY to him over the phone; Arthur Tracy performed at his wedding to Mary Hayes (“Manhattan Mary,” who also died too young of cancer).

Rich expanded our knowledge and our joy by playing an astonishing range of music from his own collection of vintage records. Every Sunday that I heard the program, I would say several times, “What is that? I never heard that record before!” and this was true in 2015 and 2016, where it seems as if everything is accessible on CD, download, or YouTube. He spent his life surrounded by 78s – those he had acquired at auction, those he was selling at record shows. Because the idea of THE BIG BROADCAST was not just famous, documented recordings, he would often play a record about which little was known. But he could offer an educated guess about the true band behind the Crown label pseudonym, whether the singer was Irving or Jack Kaufman, when the song had been premiered – much more than statistics gleaned from books. He took requests from his devoted audience, gave away tickets to jazz concerts, and with Bryan Wright, created a series of BIG BROADCAST CDs — I have more than a few — which are wonderful cross-sections of the period.

I should say that his taste was admirable.  He didn’t play every 78 he had found — no sermons, no organ recitals of light classics, no comedy records — but within the “pop and jazz” area I could trust him to play the good stuff, the music that would otherwise be forgotten.  He left IN THE MOOD to others, but he played Henry Burr, Bill Coleman, Jane Green, Johnny Marvin, Fred Rich, Ben Selvin, Annette Hanshaw, Lee Morse, Emmett Miller, Eddie Lang, Jack Purvis, Luis Russell, The Sunshine Boys, Kate Smith, Ted Weems, early Ellington, Jean Goldkette, and on and on.

And part of the pleasure of his expertise and of radio in general (at its best, when the programmer is subtle and wise) is not just the delighted shock of one record, but of the juxtapositions Rich created in three-sides-in-a-row.  THE BIG BROADCAST was rather like being invited to an evening at Jeff Healey’s house, where you knew the music would be embracing, uplifting, and educational in the best way.  (I should also say that Rich did talk — digressing into his own brand of stand-up comedy, with little bits of slightly off-key a cappella singing — but music made up the bulk of the program.  He wouldn’t tell you the personnel of the thirteen-piece big band, by choice, I am sure, because it would mean he could play fewer recordings.)

On a personal note: I, like many others, made cassettes of the program and played them in the car.  I fell asleep to the program on hundreds of Sunday nights.  When I was young and diligent, I graded student essays to it. Although Rich and I had much of the same focused obsession with the music, we met in person only a few times (I think always at Sofia’s when the Nighthawks were playing) and THE BIG BROADCAST was his world — and by extension the health and welfare of WFUV.  So our conversations were brief, before the band started or in between sets.  But my debt to him is immeasurable, and it would not have increased had our conversations been lengthy.

rich-conaty-at-wfuv

I do not know what will happen to Rich’s recorded legacy – more than eight thousand hours of radio. Some shows have been archived and can be heard through wfuv.org, but whether the station will share others as a tribute is not yet decided. More information can be found on the Facebook page devoted to Fans of the WFUV Big Broadcast.

I think of Wild Bill Davison’s puzzled question about Frank Teschemacher, dead in an auto accident in Bill’s car, “Where are we going to get another sax player like Tesch?” Paraphrase the question to apply to Rich Conaty, and the answer is, “We never will.” But his generosity will live on.

Aloha.  And Mahalo.

May your happiness increase!

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“THE BENNY STRICKLER STORY”: DAVE RADLAUER / HAL SMITH / CHRIS TYLE

Provide any jazz fan with the first name “Benny” and leave the surname blank . . . and most listeners will respond with “Goodman.”  Some will think of “Morton,” “Moten,” and stump-the-band types might reply “Meroff.”  But how many people will immediately think of the brilliant, short-lived trumpeter Benny Strickler, who distinguished himself both in Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys and the early Yerba Buena Jazz Band . . . before dying of tuberculosis in his twenties.

Strickler GTJ

I knew of Strickler as a legendary figure — revered by two of my jazz scholar-friends, Chris Tyle and Hal Smith — but I’d never had a substantial opportunity to hear his work before a friend told me about Dave Radlauer’s fascinating series of radio profiles, now available online here.  Radlauer’s approach goes beyond assembling rare records and telling us their personnel: he has spoken at length with musicians who knew his subject — including Bob Helm, Bill Bardin, Danny Alguire.  And the series goes in reverse: detailing Strickler’s playing days in San Francisco, then returning to his work with Wills in Tulsa.  The delights of these programs are substantial: we get to discover a musician few of us knew, we hear first-hand testimony from people who were on the scene, and we hear both rare recordings by Strickler and later evocations of his compact, relaxed yet energized style, his shining sound.  Dave’s JAZZ RHYTHM site presents four half-hour programs on Strickler, full of delightful music and deep research.

Do visit Dave Radlauer’s site here — you will find programs on everyone — famous and rare — from Charlie Christian to Eddie Condon, Spud Murphy, Emmett Miller, Bix, gypsy jazz . . . and more.

May your happiness increase.

HOT, MELODIC, ELUSIVE

All right, class.  Are you ready for this week’s Jazz Quiz?  (Put that phone away, please: you won’t find the answer there.)

Name a jazz trumpeter who worked and recorded with Eddie Lang, Jean Goldkette, Paul Specht, Don Voorhees, Emmett Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Red Nichols, Joe Venuti, Gene Krupa, Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Pee Wee Russell, Roger Wolfe Kahn, Vic Berton, the Georgians, Adrian Rollini, Mannie Klein, Stan King, Ben Selvin, Eugene Ormandy, Jack Teagarden, Eva Taylor, Fred Rich, Sam Lanin, Dick McDonough, Bunny Berigan, Carl Kress, Babe Russin, Hoagy Carmichael, Glenn Miller, Elizabeth Welch, Benny Goodman . . . .

OK.  Hand your papers in.  Who knows the answer?  Henry?

“Is it Jack Purvis, Professor?”

“A very good answer, but no — this trumpet player never went to jail.”

“Yes, Jennifer?”

“Leo McConville, Professor?”

“Good job, Jennifer!”

Here’s a sample of Leo at work and play:

And a more elusive one, where the listener is waiting for Leo to emerge into the open — which he does in the last seconds of the record:

And another (with lovely still photographs of Clara Bow to muse on):

McConville comes across as a very “clean” player, capable of a strong clear lead, accurate and correct, but also comfortable with a Bixian kind of melodic embellishment that could be very heated and relaxed at the same time.  He was born in 1900 in Baltimore and began playing professionally in 1914, working and recording with the Louisiana Five.  At some point, he was one of the very busy New York studio musicians and he seems to have raced from one record session to the next with stops in between for radio work.  (It’s difficult for modern listeners to imagine that radio was so important as a medium for live music, when each network had a large orchestra on staff, but it’s true.)

McConville had the good or bad fortune, depending on how you look at it, to work often in the groups of Red Nichols.  Good — in that this was steady, well-paying work; bad in that he was not going to get to play hot choruses and make a name for himself.  There are no LEO AND HIS GANG sessions for OKeh.  He did not record after 1930, and four years later he retired from the New York music scene, preferring the more tranquil life of raising chickens in Maryland to standing around at the bar with the Dorsey Brothers in Plunkett’s.  But he continued to play gigs with local bands — so his retirement seems to have been his choice rather than a matter of a failing lip.  And he lived until 1968.

I hope to be able to tell you more about the elusive Mr. McConville in days to come.  For the moment, I offer these pages from the September 1931 RHYTHM magazine — courtesy of my generous friend, the brass scholar Rob Rothberg — which show that Leo was taken very seriously in his lifetime.  And there are many more recordings with Leo to be heard on YouTube.

It interests me that Leo was being featured in this magazine even when he was no longer recording . . . or is it that his post-1930 recordings have not been documented?  Anyway, I would like a subscription to RHYTHM and would be more than happy to pay six pence a month for the privilege — look at that snappy Deco cover!

and . . .

and . . .

Leo comes across as poised, polite, with his own views — his own man, admirably so.  We should know more about him . . .