Tag Archives: Eric Elder

“CONTINUOUS ENTERTAINMENT”: MR. WETTLING GOES TO WASHINGTON AND PLAYS A GIG (March 1953)

If you’ve been wondering about George Wettling’s whereabouts in the first week of March 1953, all will be revealed to you.  A few days ago, I posted this portrait:

GEORGE WETTLING 3 53

The first urban sleuth to point out that the site was the Washington Monument was Eric Elder. Others agreed.

A second photograph, appearing here for the first time, has this identification on the back:

GEORGE WETTLING

AL SIMMONDS

MARCH 4, 1953

BROWN DERBY

WETTLING AL SIMMONDS March 4, 1953 BROWN DERBY

The picture shows that George was gigging there — see the photograph on the wall behind him, underneath a sign ending with “DIXIE BEAT” and “NOW PRESENTING.” I do not recognize the man portrayed in the second picture but some mysteries related to the other man, smiling at the camera, will be untangled below.

I assumed that these photographs were taken in Massachusetts because they came from a drummer Walt Gifford’s collection, and he was based there at this time. Boston, like other cities, did have a nightclub / restaurant called the Brown Derby — perhaps emulating the Hollywood landmark.

But “Al Simmonds” was still unidentified.  Was he a Boston jazz fan? Only when I began to search without preconceptions (a lesson here?) did I find the threads connecting Wettling, Washington, Simmonds, and the Brown Derby.  Whether the two men were friends before 1953, I can’t say. But George and Al had a show-business link, explicated (not surprisingly) through an artifact for sale on eBay in characteristic eBay prose:

“Wonderful Vintage feature and display type matchbook for The Brown Derby, Washington D.C. / matches with the picture of a brown derby and dancing nude women”:

BROWN DERBY matchbook outside

Peek behind the matches and one would read, “The Brown Derby in the Nation’s capital, where Al Simmonds and George Berg, the two international mad monks of buffoonery cavort with all the cash customers.”  (It appears that George played the piano and Al sang . . . but that is mere conjecture.)

BROWN DERBY matchbook inside

And the seller explains, as one must, that the matchbook “is in VG condition, all 21 matches intact / unstruck.”

What has this to do with George Wettling, drummer?  Now it’s clear that he went down to Washington to play at the Brown Derby and he might have taken in the sights or visited an auto show during the day.  He and Al were photographed outside the club in daylight, presumably before their appearances, but their unrecorded dialogue is lost for ever.

And if the Brown Derby’s advertisement for nude women suggests that Wettling’s career had suddenly plunged, photographs by William P. Gottlieb show that the club featured famous jazz musicians in the Forties.  In May 1946, he photographed John Kirby and Buster Bailey performing there. And I believe that prestigious nightclubs might have offered patrons drinks and dinner, a jazz band, comedians, and pulchritude in profusion.

So now you know it all, or as much as two candid snapshots can reveal.

If anyone asks, “What are you spending so much time looking at that thing — that JAZZ LIVES — for?” you might reply, “It provides continuous entertainment.”  We do our best.

May your happiness increase!

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LOVE IN BLOOM AT BIRDLAND: DAN BLOCK / JAMES CHIRILLO (May 8, 2013)

May 8, 2013, was a special day in jazz lore — although the mainstream jazz media didn’t pay it any attention: the fourteenth anniversary of David Ostwald’s Wednesday early-evening gig at Birdland with the band once called the Gully Low Jazz Band, then the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band, now (appropriately) the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band.  The participants included Jon-Erik Kellso, Tom Artin, Dan Block, David Ostwald, James Chirillo, Marion Felder — and guest stars Anat Cohen and Bria Skonberg.  The joint was jumping, but here’s a sweet bit of musical romance: Dan and James duetting, becoming a tiny but fulfilling orchestra on TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE:

Who knew midtown New York City could suddenly become so bucolic?  The pipes of Pan and a verifiable Roman lute . . .

This one’s for the Beloved, who was at my side, for Lynn and Danny, for Mar and Ricky, Noya and Eric, and all the other loving couples out there.  And if you’re currently single, be not afeard: take a chance on love!

May your happiness increase!

“NO EXTRA CHARGE FOR TABLES” (1948-49)

There was Chicago’s South Side in the mid-to-late Twenties.  There was Fifty-Second Street in New York for a decade starting in 1935 or so.  There was always Harlem and Kansas City . . . but these three advertisements speak to me of a Golden Age that was happening before I was born.

Let’s get prepared.  We need some money, acetates for my Presto disc cutter, several cameras, rare Okehs and Paramounts for everyone’s autograph . . . and be sure to let your parents know we won’t be home early.  All set?

October 8, 1948:

The Beloved has her back cushion.  We’re all set!

December 3, 1948:

We’ll swing by Emily’s house to pick her up: Eric, Noya, Jon-Erik, Matt, and Kevin are meeting us there.  If anyone tends to get carsick, they have to come by subway.

March 25, 1949:

Gordon, Veronica, Lena, and Tamar promised they’d come.

Enough fantasy, perhaps.  All I know is that one of these evenings would have changed my life.

May your happiness increase.

THE REAL THING at THE EAR INN (January 30, 2011)

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The EarRegulars — Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Block, Chris Flory, and Jon Burr — began their Sunday session last week (at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) as a relaxed tribute to the spirit and energies of Roy Eldridge, who would have celebrated his hundredth birthday on January 30, 2011.

Roy was not available to drop in with his horn, but this didn’t deter the participants.  And when the second set rolled around, Jon-Erik Kellso asked two of his colleagues what they would like to play — a nicely egalitarian gesture.  Young Eric Elder from Chicago suggested the lilting hymn to romantic togetherness through domestic chores — easier to do in song than in real life: James P. Johnson and Andy Razaf’s A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID, which sweetly rocked.  The jazz scholars in the audience didn’t rise to their feet and insist that the EarRegulars cease and desist because there was no evidence that Roy had ever recorded this song.  Oh, no, we were having too much fun with this group that at times sounded like a modern version of the John Kirby Sextet, but looser (enjoy those riffs!) crossed with a John Hammond Vanguard date — with Chris and Jon, the string section, reaching new heights of easy elegance:

Chris then asked Jon-Erik how he felt about HAPPY FEET — always a good idea, a fine romping song with echoes of the 1933 Henderson band (an outfit that had Dicky Wells, Henry “Red” Allen, and Coleman Hawkins) as well as Bing Crosby and the Rhythm Boys.  And one of our most prized secret weapons, Pete Martinez, took up his position leaning against the phone booth.  Then a surprise for me — Tricky Sam, I mean Jim, Fryer, seated at the bar, playing wonderfully — Jon Burr bowing his heart out before everyone traded epigrams:

Give them a low-down beat and they begin dancing!

BIG JAZZ: CELEBRATING ROY ELDRIDGE’S 100th at THE EAR INN (Jan. 30, 2011)

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Otto “Toby” Hardwick of the Ellington band dubbed Roy Eldridge LITTLE JAZZ a long time ago.  Not simply because Roy was short (great trumpeters often are, as Whitney Balliett pointed out).  But Roy he was animated by the spirit of the music. 

Roy always wanted to play; he had a gleefully feisty spirit; he swung harder than anyone could imagine.  He has been gone for some time now, but I remember seeing him in concerts — at Williams College and Newport in New York — and at his late-life home base, Jimmy Ryan’s.  He didn’t coast; he didn’t ever want to play it safe.  And his giant spirit is alive in our hearts and our ears. 

Jon-Erik Kellso admires Mr. Eldridge greatly — not only the built-in rasp of his trumpet tone or his hot, speedy articulation, but his inventiveness, his emotional force.  In fact, the first time I heard young Kellso on a CD, years ago, I thought, “Who is this young cat who sounds a little bit like young Roy without copying the Master?” 

Since January 30, 2011 happened to be David Roy Eldridge’s one-hundredth birthday, the EarRegulars turned their regular Sunday gig at the Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) into a small heartfelt tribute to the spirit of Little Jazz, again without copying the records. 

In this, Jon-Erik was aided mightily by several swing sages: Dan Block on clarinet and tenor sax; Jon Burr on bass; Chris Flory on guitar.  Oh, how they rocked!

Here are a few highlights: 

Although AFTER YOU’VE GONE is sometimes a song played as a farewell, it was offered early in the evening at a relaxed yet steamy tempo, with the EarRegulars clicking in to gear.  (Pay paricular attention to bassist Jon, who was eloquent beyond his usual eloquence in solo after solo.):

Roy was known for searing playing at fast tempos, but his ballads were something special, and audiences who knew this often came in to Ryan’s about 11:30 for “The Ballad.”  I remember once hearing an extraordinary WILLOW WEEP FOR ME. 

The EarRegulars didn’t make us wait that long to hear I SURRENDER, DEAR (yet another reminder of how much Coleman Hawkins and his generation devoted themselves to the singing and repertoire of Bing Crosby, with good reason):

I don’t recall Roy recording I FOUND A NEW BABY as such, but he improvised on its chord changes more than once, I believe — and this wasn’t a repertory tribute to Mr. Eldridge, but another Sunday night excursion into deep fun.  (At the end of the night, Jon-Erik said, “I started making a list of tunes associated with Roy, but I realized that’s what we play, anyway!”):

The second set brought forth a classic Gift From The EarRegulars scenario: the chance to hear someone new to me and to be impressed. 

I’d already been impressed by clarinetist / reedman Eric Elder from Chicago without hearing a note: his perceptive, witty emails got to the heart of things.  When we met, we spent a good long time talking about music and musicians and life — a wonderful combination.  So when Eric came up to play, I was excited.  And he didn’t disappoint.  Mind you, for a younger reedman (“Jon-Erik called him Eric Elder the Younger) sitting next to Dan Block and Pete Martinez is both Paradise and the hot seat — but Eric played nimbly and with feeling on the selections that closed out the night.

You’re going to hear a lot from him, I assure  you. 

Here’s one delicious highlight of the second set, containing a sweet surprise that (in my experience) happens often at the Ear Inn on Sunday nights.  I was seated at the bar behind my camera, fixated on what was in my viewfinder, when I heard a trombone both smooth and gutty.  I didn’t quite think of WHERE’S WALDO? or “Who is the mystery guest?” but eased myself forward, still shooting this veideo, to find our pal Jim Fryer seated, playing, adding joy to a pretty medium-tempo ROCKIN’ CHAIR (that’s Ruby Braff-tempo, by the way):

The session ended much later than usual.  

I missed what would have been the convenient train.  

I overslept the next morning and missed work. 

I apologize to my students, but this session was sublimely worth it.

And if these video performances make you feel warm and sunny inside, you’ll know what to do!