Tag Archives: Ernest Hill

THE CATALYTIC MISTER DANDRIDGE

putney-dandridge-78

We  have so much to thank Fats Waller for.  He could be the subject of a thousand posts, and the joy he spreads won’t ever diminish.  But, like Louis Armstrong, who he was and what he did were perceived immediately as marketable commodities.  In the early Thirties, with the coin-operated automatic phonograph a new and exciting phenomenon, Waller’s popularity was immense.  But he was under contract to Victor Records, so the other labels looked for their own “Fats” to compete for public attention.

Thus, piano-playing entertainers who could put over a song in a jocular way were valuable.  Swinging pop songs of the day — songs often from films — was the thing.  The very talented women Lil Hardin Armstrong and Cleo Brown recorded for Decca, as did Bob Howard.  Willie the Lion Smith did his own recordings for that label.  Tempo King, Stew Pletcher, Adrian Rollini, and Louis “King” Garcia recorded for Bluebird; Taft Jordan for Melotone, Stuff Smith for Vocalion. Henry “Red” Allen, Billie Holiday, and Mildred Bailey existed in their own aesthetic worlds, but it’s clear they ran parallel to the Waller phenomenon, with a substantial bow to Louis.

Photograph courtesy of ON THIS DAY IN JAZZ AGE MUSIC, with thanks to Confetta-Ann Rasmussen.

Photograph courtesy of ON THIS DAY IN JAZZ AGE MUSIC, with thanks to Confetta-Ann Rasmussen.

Our subject for today, though, is Putney Dandridge, who made a series of recordings in 1935-36 for Brunswick Records.  He is well-known to only a few, I believe, and so I am doing something atypical for JAZZ LIVES and reprinting the detailed Wikipedia entry — more detailed than the Blessed John Chilton’s paragraph:

Louis “Putney” Dandridge (January 13, 1902 – February 15, 1946) was an African American bandleader, jazz pianist and vocalist.

Born in Richmond, Virginia, Dandridge began performing in 1918 as a pianist in the a revue entitled the Drake and Walker Show. In 1930, he worked for a time as accompanist for tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, including appearances in the important black musical Brown Buddies. In February 1931, Dandridge appeared in the cast of the musical revue Heatin’ Up Harlem, starring Adelaide Hall at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem. After touring in Illinois and the Great Lakes region, Dandridge settled in Cleveland, Ohio, forming his own band, which included guitarist Lonnie Johnson. This period lasted until 1934, when he attempted to perform as a solo act. He took his show to New York City, beginning a series of long residences at the Hickory House on 52nd Street and other local clubs. From 1935 to 1936, he recorded numerous sides under his own name, many of which highlighted some major jazz talents of the period, including Roy Eldridge, Teddy Wilson, Henry “Red” Allen, Buster Bailey, John Kirby, Chu Berry, Cozy Cole and more. Appearing to vanish from the music scene in the late thirties, it is speculated that Dandridge may have been forced to retire due to ill health. Dandridge died in Wall Township, New Jersey at the age of 44.

Here he is, appearing as “the Stage Manager,” in the 1932 film HARLEM IS HEAVEN, starring Bill Robinson and James Baskette.  Putney appears about ten minutes into the film, and you can see him speaking, chewing gum, scatting, at the piano:

Now, I am not making a case for Dandridge as Waller’s equal.  He was a serviceable swing / cocktail pianist at best, and he plays on five of the first six sides of the series.  But something spectacular can come from a liability, and the result of Putney’s piano playing — say that quickly if you dare — was that Teddy Wilson was called in for the remaining sessions.  As a singer, he was an enthusiastic amateur with a wide uncontrolled vibrato, a limited range, and a scat-singing tendency that was, I think, anachronistic even for 1935.  But in the great vaudeville tradition, he knew the songs, he put them  over with verve, and even when his vocals are most difficult to listen to, one focuses on the gem-like accompaniment.

I have no record of John Hammond’s involving himself in these sessions. I believe the Brunswick supervisor for these dates was Harry Gray.  Perhaps Wilson acted as contractor and went to the Rhythm Club the night before a date and said, “Are you free at noon tomorrow?  It’s fifty dollars?” and selected the best musicians he could from the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, Willie Bryant, Chick Webb, Stuff Smith, Goodman, Ellington, Henderson, Calloway, Redman.

It intrigues me that often the splendid playing on these discs is done by musicians who were less in the public eye, thus giving us opportunities to hear people who played beautifully and were not given the opportunities that the stars were.  The players include Roy Eldridge, Henry “Red” Allen, Doc Cheatham, Shirley Clay, Richard Clarke, Bobby Stark, Wallace Jones, Chu Berry, Buster Bailey, Johnny Russell, Tommy Mace, Teddy McRae, Charles Frazier, Joe Marsala, Carmen Mastren, Arnold Adams, Nappy Lamare, Clarence Holiday, Lawrence Lucie, Dave Barbour, John Trueheart, Eddie Condon, Allan Reuss, John Kirby, Grachan Moncur, Mack Walker, Wilson Myers, Ernest Hill, Artie Bernstein, Bill Beason, Walter Johnson, Cozy Cole, Slick Jones, Sidney Catlett.  When Wilson was out of town with the Goodman orchestra, Clyde Hart, Ram Ramirez, or James Sherman took his place.  I’d suggest that students of Thirties rhythmic practice have a two-semester intensive study seminar in front of them in these discs.  Without fanfare, these were racially mixed sessions.

Here’s a sample — goofy, exuberant, and delightfully swinging.  Don’t take your eyes off the screen, for the great jazz scholar Franz Hoffmann has inserted a (silent) clip of Putney performing in 1933 from the film SCANDAL, and he looks exactly as he sounds:

I wrote before that Dandridge is little-known, and that might be true, but his SKELETON IN THE CLOSET was part of the soundtrack for a video game, BIOSHOCK 2, so it pleases me to imagine some Youngblood listening to the complete Putney through his earbuds on his way to school.  Stranger things have happened.

The Dandridge anthology I knew in the Seventies was three records on the Rarities label; there are two CDs on the Chronological Classics series, and (the best — sound by John R.T. Davies) is a two-CD set on the Timeless label, issued in 1995.  YouTube — or “Orchard Enterprises” — has made all 44 sides available here.  I don’t recommend listening to all of them in a row, because Putney’s vocal approach might pall — but they are  priceless reminders of a time when great songs and great musicians were in the air in a way that would be unusual today.  Here’s the YouTube collection.  (Please, I can’t vouch for its correctness, and if it doesn’t play in your country I can’t fix it . . . but consider the price of admission).

Thanks to Marc Caparone, the great Inspirer.

May your happiness increase!

A HOT BAND IS GOOD TO FIND (Part Two): CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND at the WEDNESDAY NIGHT HOP (August 1, 2012)

Jim Klippert said it best.  “I always wanted to play with a band like this.”

On August 1, 2012, Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band rocked the house — the Cheryl Burke Dance Studio in Mountain View, California — at the “Wednesday Night Hop.”

The participants?  Clint on trumpet and vocal; Jim Klippert, trombone; Bill Carter, clarinet; Jason Vanderford, guitar; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Tom Wilson, string bass; Steve Apple, drums.

Here’s where you can find out about future Wednesday Night Hops.

And here’s the first part of the evening.

Now, to the second.  The constant delights were beautiful ensemble energy and precision, wonderful hot playing — passion, relaxation, and intuition — no matter what the tempo.  More than one person let me know that the first set was so entrancingly distracting that it got them off track at work . . . . I have visions of people at their desks all over the world trying hard to stay focused while Sister Kate does her thing . . . . for Clint and his colleagues create music that is deliciously distracting.  Their music is a sure cure for gloom, tedium, ennui, Victorian swoons, pins-and-needles, existential dread, coffee nerves, the blahs, low blood sugar, high anxiety, and more.

SISTER KATE (or, for the archivists in the room, GET OFF KATIE’S HEAD):

Woe, woe.  It’s CARELESS LOVE.  Be careful, now!

Thanks to Puccini, here’s AVALON, not too fast:

For Bix, for Louis, for Papa Joe — ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

SOMEDAY SWEETHEART:

KNEE DROPS is an irresistible Louis Armstrong song from the Hot Five sessions. For this post, I tried to find more information on what the dance move would have looked like in 1926 . . .but I am not sure that the “knee drop” as practiced in break-dancing and ballet would have been recognized at the Sunset Cafe or other Chicago nightspots:

When in doubt, SHAKE THAT THING (defined loosely):

May your happiness increase.

A HOT BAND IS GOOD TO FIND (Part One): CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND at the WEDNESDAY NIGHT HOP (August 1, 2012)

What happened in Mountain View, California, on Wednesday, August 1, 2012, might have been noted by global weather scientists as the best kind of seismic alteration.  Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band played two sets for dancers at the “Wednesday Night Hop” held at the Cheryl Burke Dance Studio and they made the cosmos rock — as far as I and the dancers could tell.

The participants?  Clint on trumpet and vocal; Jim Klippert, trombone; Bill Carter, clarinet; Jason Vanderford, guitar; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Tom Wilson, string bass; Steve Apple, drums.

Here’s where you can find out about future Wednesday Night Hops: the street address, the admission cost, directions.

And here’s the first part of the evening.

But a word before you immerse yourselves in the rocking hot sounds.

Some of my nicest readers gently write in, “Michael, you really should have put your camera here or there,” and I try not to let that SHOULD weigh too heavily on me. The gentle suggesters do not realize that I am at these gigs because the band members are generous kind people who put up with my presence and my camera.  But the world is not my personal video studio and I am trying my best to be unobtrusive — not the jazz world’s Erich von Stroheim.

So at Mountain View I could have set up my camera under a huge whirring electric fan (needed to keep the dancers from heatstroke) or over the drums.  I chose the latter and initially I was anxious.  But necessity is not only an inventive mother — sometimes Miss Necessity is a real pal (think of Joan Blondell in the Thirties movies where she tells the naive heroine what really needs to be said).

Setting up close to Steve Apple was a religious experience, for he played with such quiet strength,  such variety of sound and timbre, such deep swing that my vantage point was a true gift.  You can hear how the horns floated on top of and through this blissful rhythm section . . . . and how they mixed 2012 swing with a beautiful New Orleans splendor!  Clint’s solid lead would have made the masters grin; Bill Carter and Jim Klippert weave curlicues and romp on the harmonies in the best way — and those fellows in the back: Reinhart and Vanderford and Wilson would get my vote for Best String Trio anywhere.  The real thing, alive and well.

Clint called DALLAS BLUES to start, which is the hallmark of a man who loves the music — and he had been playing Luis Russell in the car on the way down to Mountain View, always a good idea:

ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY is a sweet Jabbo Smith tune that’s getting more play these days (Eddie Erickson does it, too!) — romance in swingtime:

WHISPERING shows, once again, how a band sensitive to the dancers can swing anything:

RED SAILS IN THE SUNSET brings back 1935 Louis (this is a Decca band) and the New Orleans tradition of playing pop tunes rather than sticking to a narrow repertoire of  “good old good ones”: I think of Bunk Johnson preferring PISTOL PACKIN’ MAMA and MARIA ELENA on dance gigs:

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, with the verse — and I swung my camera around to catch the expert hopping of Audrey Kanemoto, our heroine, and Manu Smith.  Watching this video, I thought of the Czech writer Josef Skvorecky, who loved jazz and had been an amateur saxophonist in his homeland under a variety of occupations.  In one of his novels, he has a passage describing playing in a band while the current love of his life is doing a beautiful expert vigorous Charleston to the music.  He would have loved to see this band and these dancers:

There was no beer at Mountain View, although there were Fritos in little bags from the vending machine.  Perhaps that’s why THE BUCKET’S GOT A HOLE IN IT came to mind.  Or perhaps it was time for some Lowdown Groove, which I have not found in any vending machine:

WEDNESDAY NIGHT HOP, a fast blues for the Lindy Hoppers:

I love SOLID OLD MAN — a simple line from the session that Rex Stewart, Barney Bigard, and Billy Taylor did with Django in 1939:

KRAZY KAPERS is, as Clint mentions, a line on DIGA DIGA DOO — recorded first by Benny Carter in 1933 with one of our dream bands, featuring Floyd O’Brien, Chu Berry, Sidney Catlett, Teddy Wilson, Max Kaminsky, Lawrence Lucie, and Ernest Hill.  (Thank you, John Hammond!):

My goodness!  What a hot band!  And there’s more to come.

May your happiness increase.

WHAT HAPPINESS LOOKS and SOUNDS LIKE (at DIXIELAND MONTEREY): March 5, 2011

More from Dixieland Monterey 2011 (the Jazz Bash by the Bay)!

On paper, this was advertised as simply another session by the Reynolds Brothers, which was good enough for me: I had been following them around, a dazed and grinning hero-worshipper.  They’re John (National steel guitar, vocals, whistling), Ralf (washboard), Katie Cavera (string bass, vocal), Marc Caparone (cornet).  More than enough for anyone!

But when I saw their friends — Jeff Barnhart (piano), Dan Barrett (trombone), Bryan Shaw (trumpet), I settled into my seat knowing that great things — a jazz colloquy on Olympus — would come.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

They began with I NEVER KNEW (homage to that wonderful recording by Benny Carter, Floyd O’Brien, Teddy Wilson, Chu Berry, Ernest Hill, Sidney Catlett, and Max Kaminsky, as “The Chocolate Dandies”).  Their reimagining has stunning brass playing and a delightfully weird harmonic interlude by Jeff — picked up by the horns — before they rock on out:

I adjusted my camera’s white balance so the scene looked less like a Vincent Price film in time for the second number, I WANT A LITTLE GIRL.  Originally recorded in 1930 by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers (with a vocal by George Thomas, if I remember correctly), it was rediscovered in 1945-6 by Buck Clayton and Louis.

The spirits of Mr. Strong and Mr. Clayton — tender yet annunciatory — permeate this performance.  And look at the faces of the musicians!  Watch Dan listening to Marc and Bryan!  Catch the dreamy don’t-wake-me-now look on Katie’s face!  It’s thrilling to see musicians afloat on mutual love for beautiful sounds:

I don’t know who suggested the next tune — a wonderful one, almost forgotten, by Harry Warren from FORTY-SECOND STREET, recorded by Bing Crosby and (much later) by Ruby Braff — another jazz carpe diem for the ages.  The clever lyrics are by Al Dubin.  This version has the approving ghosts of Bing and Putney Dandridge hovering around it — with the brass section discoursing in the happiest way on the beauties of Thirties and Forties swing epigrams.  And Jeff’s performance (swinging, hilarious, sweet) suggests what Fats might have done with the song:

Because I had made dinner plans with the irrepressible Jack Rothstein, I had to leave at this point, but I turned to my dear friend Rae Ann Berry and begged her in an insistent whisper, “Please.  Please tape the rest of this?  I have to go but I can’t stand missing the rest.”  And Rae Ann, truly a good sport, took over.  So the remaining videos exist because of her generosity.

And they are generous!

Katie asks the lover’s question — DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME?  Oh, we do, Katie.  Her sweetly unaffected vocal gives way to a brass fantasy (who needs clarinets?) in solos and riffs.  And in the middle, there is a perfectly astonishing piano solo — try this at home.  I dare you!  And catch Jeff watching John in delighted amazement while John scrolls through one of his amazing solos (Jeff is chording with his left hand).  Another Katie chorus, and then Brass Ecstasy — circa 1933 (I think), with everyone shouting for joy to the heavens:

Then something beautiful and rare — a Bryan Shaw ballad feature!  It’s I’M CONFESSIN’ (with the bridge of his first solo loving embodiment of Buck Clayton) — again embodying the tradition of singing trumpets born from Louis.  (I’ve heard that Bryan has completed a new Arbors CD with Dan Barrett and friends, coming soon!)  Then a weirdly sweet Jeff Barnhart piano interlude before Bryan offers his own mixture of drama and sweetness:

Back to Louis and Fats (what could be wrong?) for the 1935 GOT A BRAN’ NEW SUIT — in the key of G, by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz.  About a minute into this performance, you’ll hear that delicious sound of a band locking into swing — a swing that some bands reach only in the last chorus and some never reach at all!  John’s sweet, flying vocal is appropriate for this song and for a man so beautifully dressed:

I’ve already written encomia for Becky Kilgore’s guest appearance with this band on WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA — but I’m including this video because I think it cannot be seen too many times:

And to close — a simple Louis blues, MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, absolutely exultant:

This music gave and gives so much pleasure that I had trouble finding a title for this posting.  I am content with mine — see the smiles on the faces of the musicians! — but have to share another story, with apologies for the dropping of names.  When I was fortunate enough to chat with clarinetist Frank Chace (now more than a decade ago), he remembered that he and Marty Grosz had listened, rapt, to Pee Wee Russell’s solo on SWEET SUE with the Muggsy Spanier Ragtimers.  Marty’s comment was, “Well, if that doesn’t scrape the clouds . . . !” which is as good a summation of what artistic bliss feels like.

Thank you, Jeff, Dan, Marc, Ralf, Bryan, Katie, John, and Rae Ann — for keeping Beautiful Music Alive!