Pee Wee Russell hadn’t taken good care of himself, and his body had rebelled in 1951. Thank goodness for the medical acumen of the times that enabled him to live almost twenty years more. But I also think that knowing that he was so loved — Jack Teagarden and Louis Armstrong visiting him in the hospital — and events such as this concert must have helped. Music and love were so intertwined that it would be silly to ask where one starts and the other one ends, because neither one of them ends.
It’s odd to write that good things came out of the Cold War. But the belief that one of the best ways to exhibit the happiness possible under capitalism was to share hot music as an emblem of freedom may seem naive now, but it had sweet results. The Voice of America, an active propaganda medium, beamed live American jazz “behind the Iron Curtain,” hoping for conversion experiences.
In 2021, those of us old enough to remember Khruschev’s shoe and the Bay of Pigs, hiding under our desks, terrified of a thermonuclear device, can listen to some rich “Americondon” music. And for those who have no idea what those historical references might mean are encouraged to learn a little history and listen to the joys.
Here’s the menu:
JAZZ CLUB USA (Voice of America): from Town Hall, New York City, February 21, 1951: Tribute to Pee Wee Russell.
FIDGETY FEET / I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Ed Hall, Gene Schroeder, Eddie Condon, Bob Casey, Buzzy Drootin / UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE Ernie Caceres, Schroeder, Al Hall, Buzzy / I CAN’T GET STARTED – HALLELUJAH! Joe Bushkin, Ray McKinley / IN A MIST Ralph Sutton / BASIN STREET BLUES as FIDGETY FEET:
Speaking of “something to look forward to,” did you know that Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars will be playing outside The Ear Inn on Sunday, May 2, 2021, from 1 to 3:30? Of course you knew.
It’s premature to play this, but I don’t care. And any excuse to feature Bobby Hackett, Ernie Caceres, Joe Bushkin, Eddie Condon, and Sidney Catlett has to be seized:
And here are some “old times” that are forever new, from January 16, 2011. provided generously by Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Mark Lopeman, Neal Miner, and friends Pete Martinez, Chris Flory, Tamar Korn, and Jerron Paxton.
Chris sits in for Matt on that most durable of philosophical statements, I WANT TO BE HAPPY:
Tamar sings of love — surrender and power — in BODY AND SOUL:
Jerron Paxton tells us what will happen SOME OF THESE DAYS:
Tamar sings a faster-than-usual WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:
Bobby, listening to Vic Dickenson at Childs Paramount, October 1952
Bobby Hackett remains one of my musical heroes, and I cherish his recordings, the few times I saw him in person, and the sound of his horn in my memory, a sound I can call up at will. In case you need a reminder of Bobby’s delicate mastery, here is his 1975 performance of SWEET LORRAINE at the Grande Parade du Jazz in July 1975.
Bobby’s son Ernie — swinging drummer and vivid individualist — has fascinated me since I encountered him on Facebook years ago. Outspoken, tender, kind, hilarious, a man of deep perceptions and deep emotions, he’s been a remarkable presence to me. Recently, thanks to our mutual friend Clyde Groves — who appearshereand here(Clyde is Billy Butterfield’s son-in-law) — Ernie and I had a delightful long phone conversation about the people we both love, a few noted in my title, which it is my honor to share with you here.
Now . . . here’s what Ernie told me, just before Christmas 2020 — a big present for all of us.
Simplicity was Dad’s art. He loved the melody, and he knew how to play around with the melody, but he never got out of control. He didn’t like the spotlight, the glamour, and he rarely took the first chorus. What always hit me in the family, blessed as I was, was his wonderful sense of humor, his dry, witty sense of humor. He was going through Customs once, and the agent looked at the cornet case and said, “Is that a musical instrument?” Dad’s one-word reply was, “Occasionally.” Little things like that: all my life I was familiar with those little things.
He was one of nine children, in Providence, and he dropped out of school at a very early age, because he started playing gigs, I believe on violin, then ukulele in the beginning. He didn’t play horn until he was in his teens. I didn’t know many of my aunts and uncles, except Aunt Dottie was very very close with Dad, and she had the same type of humor. She and her husband used to visit us, after the family relocated to Cape Cod, because they were coming in from Providence. There’s something about a dry sense of humor with musicians to begin with. I can’t say why, but I’m sure you’ve spotted it. Dad’s favorite phrase, if anybody asked him about politics, was “When the President tells me how to play the horn, then I’ll tell him how to run the country.” Plain and simple, to the point.
When he was home, he constantly practiced in the living room. In his boxer shorts. He never played a tune in his practicing, nothing but scales. Modulating scales, up and down, that’s all he ever practiced. And if people were coming over, he might put his robe on, or a t-shirt. That’s how Billy Butterfield was also. I knew Billy to some degree, because when Dad and Billy happened to be in New York at the same time, and Billy was passing through, he would always stay with us at our house in Jackson Heights. And I’ll always remember, Billy, first thing in the morning, coming down in his shorts – at least he had a t-shirt on – hair all messed up, saying good morning to everybody. He was like a shorter, stubbier Dad.
[I’d asked Ernie about Bobby’s generous nature, which sometimes led him to be taken advantage of, and his reaction.] I’d say he shrugged his shoulders, and always moved forward. The one thing that comes to mind would be the Jackie Gleason records. He never berated Jackie Gleason for that. My mother blamed Jack Philbin, his manager at the time, who I just recently learned was Regis Philbin’s father. It was Dad’s decision. He took the ten thousand dollars, because he wanted to buy a house for the family, for us, not knowing what was going to happen in the future. He wasn’t bitter about it. Nobody in the family ever begrudged him for making that decision. He did it for us.
He got along with just about everybody.
Mom was from Fall River, Mass., and Dad was from Providence. I don’t know exactly how they met, but I do know they married on Nantucket, and I think he was with the Casa Loma band at the time. Of course, this is way before my time, so it’s all hearsay and articles that I’m remembering. [Ernie asked his niece, Michelle, and she added this wonderful story: “Grandpa had a two week gig at a posh resort on Nantucket, with full accommodations. He asked Grandma to go with him, but she said she couldn’t travel with him as a single lady. So he suggested that they get married the first day they were there, then they had a two week (all paid) honeymoon on Nantucket.”]
They were wonderful friends. It was a rocky marriage at times: we’ve all been through that. I’m sure you know that Dad was an alcoholic. We’ve always been realistic about that. It was out in the open. Dad’s loving term to refer to Mom was “The Warden.” I’m not going to say he never drank at home: he slipped a couple of times. It became ugly when that happened. My sister and I used to spend nights crying at the top of the stairs with Mom and Dad going at it, arguing. A day or two, they’d get over it and Dad would straighten up again.
Incidentally, contrary to popular belief of “Ernie Caceres” – I was named after my Mom’s older brother named Ernest – who died at an early age in a freak bus accident.
Eddie Condon was my Godfather! I always figured that my parents thought if anything should ever happen to them that Eddie would be sure to teach me how to handle alcohol!
When I was about seventeen, I dropped out of high school. I was still playing drums. From what I understand, George Wettling showed me how to hold a pair of drumsticks when I was about five years old, though I don’t remember that. I’d spent a couple of years playing electric guitar in a high school rock and roll band, but I still had a set of drums.
If I hadn’t become a jazz drummer, I probably would have become a rock drummer. Actually my first choice of music was always rock! What sort of pushed me towards jazz was my association with all the guys that worked with Dad!
Dad had a detached garage that he converted into a sound studio, outside the house. I was in there one night and Dad knocked on the door, came in, and said, “How’d you like to come out on the road with me and learn how to play drums?” I was flabbergasted – I was seventeen — and the first thing that came to my mind was “You don’t dare say no to that.” What an experience. And that’s what proceeded to happen over the next couple of years.
The first thing I realized was that when Dad was on the road, he was off the wagon. My first professional gig with Dad was in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It was about a two or three-week stint, and Dave McKenna was with us. And I learned how to drive because it was very rare that Dad and Dave were on the road and could drink together, because Dad had to drive back to the hotel every night. However, they learned quickly that if the kid drove them back home at night, they could have fun during the gig. And that’s how I got my license. It could be sad at times: Dad’s playing suffered quite a bit when he drank, and it was obvious. He was always apologetic to me the next day. He was embarrassed that I saw him like that. But we muddled through it.
I really learned on the job. It was a good education. One of my fortes as a drummer was keeping very good time, not dragging or rushing. And the reason I got that way was because in the beginning, if I started to drag the slightest shade, Dad would stomp his foot, on stage, to the right beat. And, boy, I probably turned beet red. That’s embarrassing! If I started rushing, he would slow me right down. He would correct me immediately. But it paid off. I talk a lot about going into parochial schooling and then into the army, and all the discipline I went through, but when you look back at it as an adult, you’re thankful for it. It taught you. Things were done the right way.
[I asked Ernie about Bobby’s dear friend and colleague (and my hero) Vic Dickenson.] Oh, boy. My uncle. He and Dad had a brotherly relationship. The thing that hit me the most is that after Dad passed, Mom and I relocated to New York City from Cape Cod. That’s when I started hanging around Eddie Condon’s and Jimmy Ryan’s, and getting ready to make my move in that direction, and Vic just took me under his wing like you wouldn’t believe. I’ll talk about the risqué parts – the many, many breaks we spent in his Oldsmobile 98, “The Office,” for our smoke breaks.
His sense of humor was astonishing also. Subtle, so subtle. One night at Condon’s, we came out from being in his car on one of the breaks. I remember standing there – he always had the best stuff in the world – I remember getting up on the stage and saying, “How the heck am I going to get through this? My God.” Usually getting high didn’t affect my playing, at least I didn’t think so, anyway, because I was high. So, we started playing, and it was during the first chorus. Now Vic, at Eddie Condon’s, always sat right in front of the mounted tom-tom. And Connie Kay, God bless him, always left his drums for me. So we were playing, and Vic turned around to me with a big smile, and he tapped the tom-tom, and said, “Whaddaya think?” And I said, “Whoa!” and his reply was, “Wait another minute or two. Just wait.”
What a wonderful soul he was, a loving person. You could easily see the love affair between him and Dad. In fact, I was just watching the JUST JAZZ program, where they were doing JITTERBUG WALTZ. You could just see the love between the two of them. It was just amazing. It was a wonderful show. They had such mutual respect for one another – not only as musicians, but as people. It was really quite a friendship. Vic was family. There was no other way around it. We all loved Uncle Vic, and he was just a sweetheart to all of us. And he never acted drunk. He’d drink Cutty Sark all night long, a straight shot in a glass, and a back of water, but he never lost his cool, ever, no matter how much of it he drank. God bless him. He knew himself – very much so.
I have to tell you about Vic and his joints. When Vic rolled a joint, it was the most perfect joint, and the trick was you’d have to roll it quite loose, and leave some room at the end to tuck that end in with the blunt end of a wooden match. So that way the grass wouldn’t fall out of it. And it was perfectly shaped, like an English Oval cigarette. So I taught myself how to do it, so I could roll a joint just like Uncle Vic. So one night we were in his car, hanging out, and I said, “Here, Vic. Do my stick here,” and he said, “All right, OK,” and I lit it up and handed it to him, and he looked at me and said, “Did I give you this?” And I just had the biggest smile, and I said, “Nope. I made that.” He said, “Get outta here!” I said, “No, I taught myself how to roll like you!” and he just got the biggest kick out of that. What an honor!
Dad had a clique of musician friends who came to the house. I’m told that Louis would occasionally visit our house in Jackson Heights! But I was too young to even remember. There was Ruby Braff, and I think Sam Margolis a couple of times. He was another sweetheart. Sam subbed from time to time at Condon’s, but we also worked together with Max Kaminsky, after Max’s regular drummer, Freddie Moore, a funny gentleman, really nice guy, wanted to retire, and Max asked me if I wanted to be in the band.
I could go on about Max: we had a love-hate relationship. Max could be pretty nasty when he wanted to be. There was one gig he got for us in North Carolina, a wedding at a golf resort. It turned out to be a pain in the neck: Sam was on it with us. We had to fly down, and the gig happened, and then the next day we were supposed to play in the garden for the reception, and it became obvious that we weren’t going to get paid at the end of the gig, but at the month, like a club date, he would have our money. Well, I was living completely hand to mouth at that time, struggling to keep my studio apartment on Central Park West, and I got so mad at him, really mad. We were returning, and we were at the airport in North Carolina, at a long gateway, and I saw Max walking down from the opposite direction. I was just staring at him, because he knew I wanted my money. But sometimes you’d have to love Max, too. He took me off to the side, and he looked really nervous. He gave me a hundred-dollar bill, maybe half of what I was supposed to get, and he said, “I can’t give you the whole thing now, Ernie, but take this, I hope it helps you. Please don’t tell any of the other guys.” So I shook his hand and I kept his secret. We used to get mad at each other a lot, but we forgot about it the next day and hugged each other.
Tony Bennett wasn’t a frequent visitor to the house, but from time to time he’d pop in. Whenever Dad had these visits, everybody disappeared into the garage – are you familiar with the air freshener / deodorizer Ozium? They used to use that to cover up the marijuana.
On that subject: a few years later, before I was going in to the service, I was doing a four-week gig with Dad in New Orleans, my first opportunity to be in New Orleans, and we were at Al Hirt’s nightclub. At the time Dad had a pseudo-manager named Leo Kappos, a Greek gentleman, short little guy, likeable. Mom hated him, because she knew that he was Dad’s enabler. The funny thing was, that at that time, I’ll be honest with you, I was already a pothead. Dad used to try to smoke grass to stay away from alcohol, but it never really worked for him. So one night, I was going downstairs to the gig, in a tux, and I got in the elevator, and Leo was in there too, just Leo and me. And Leo started laughing, and he said, “Listen, I gotta get you and your Dad together, because the two of you are smoking pot all the time and not letting each other know about it. You gotta get to know each other!” I never forgot that.
Dad would try it from time to time, but his high of choice was beer. He had a very low tolerance, because he had a very slight frame, he always suffered with diabetes, which didn’t make drinking any easier. Half a Heineken and he’d almost be on the floor. It was difficult. He had quite a battle to stay away from that.
I’ll slide that around to another story that involves me introducing myself to Frank Sinatra. [Here you can enjoy Frank and Bobby.]
Dad and I were playing at the Riverboat in New York, in the basement of the Empire State Building, 1966 or 1967. It had to be around July 4. Dad was featured, and I guess a six or seven-piece band. And one night, I noticed Tony [Bennett] came in, and he was only there for ten or fifteen minutes. He and Dad kind of disappeared. And at the next break, Dad came over to me, and said, “Listen. Tony told me that Frank’s going to be at Jilly’s tonight. He’s having a party. We’re all welcome to stop in there and join him.” My sister idolized Frank Sinatra all her life, so Dad said to me, “Call Barbara, and have her and her boyfriend meet us at Jilly’s, around 12:30 or 1 AM,” which I did. Dad and I got in a cab – I wasn’t quite driving at that time – up to Jilly’s, on 55th Street, I think it was, and we went in.
The party was in a private room at the back, and people were throwing firecrackers around the bar. It was Frank’s crew, because it was the Fourth of July and he felt like throwing firecrackers around. We went in the back room, Dad and I, and Dad started to drink, had a Heineken. My sister and her boyfriend showed up, and that was it for the family, the four of us, we’re at a table. Off to my left was a long Last Supper-type of table with Mr. Sinatra in the middle of it, with his back against the wall, and he was entertaining the people at the table. So all of a sudden, Dad said, “Ernie, I want you to go over and introduce yourself to Mr. Sinatra.” My legs almost crumpled out from under me, I almost fainted. When Dad was drinking, you didn’t dare say no. So I had to toughen up for this.
I walked behind the back of the table, and I came up right behind – I don’t like calling him Frank, he was Mr. Sinatra to me. He was in the middle of a story, a joke, whatever, and the two goons on either side of him, with their hands in their laps, were staring at me, like, “What are you doing here?” Nothing was said, but they would not take their eyes off me. I was waiting for Mr. Sinatra to end the story so I could quickly tap him on the shoulder and say, “Hi, I’m Ernie Hackett. My Dad said I had to say hi to you,” which is what happened. When I went to tap him on the shoulder, the two goons went to stand up, so right away, I blurted out, “Mr. Sinatra, I’m Ernie Hackett, Bobby Hackett’s son. He told me to come over, I should say hi.” And he was very gracious, stood up, shook my hand, gave me a big smile, said, “Thank you so much, Ernie. Very nice to meet you,” and that was that.
Now we fast-forward ten to fifteen years. Now I was playing at Eddie Condon’s. Dad had passed. Wild Bill Davison was in town, which is going to lead me into another story. I don’t know if you remember at Condon’s, the big table was the round one right in front of the bandstand, and that’s where the celebrities would sit. Sinatra came in with his wife Barbara, and a priest who always traveled with him – I think that was in case he needed the last rites – and three or four other people at the table, to enjoy Wild Bill. After the set ended, and remember, at Eddie Condon’s, the stage was about two or three feet off the ground, I got down from the drums onto the floor, and there was a table right there, and someone started chatting with me, I don’t know, about Dad or something, two or three minutes. All of a sudden I feel a tap on my shoulder, I turn around, and it’s Frank Sinatra. I couldn’t believe it. He shook my hand, and all he said was, “I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your playing, Ernie. It was just fantastic.” I didn’t know what to say! I just thanked him. I often wonder, with my sense of humor, if I had pulled a Don Rickles on him and said, “Hey, Frank. I’m just talking to people here. Can you wait a minute? I’ll be right with you!” but thank God I didn’t do that. He might have shot me: I don’t know.
But I always liked Frank Sinatra as a person. He was a wonderful, wonderful man, very gracious. He donated – I don’t remember the amount of money – the New Jersey Jazz Society had a benefit for Mom, and I think he donated two or three thousand dollars, which at that time was like ten thousand dollars. And he was at Condon’s one night, waiting for the rest of his entourage to come up from the rest room, and he was under the portrait at the end of the bar, just standing there, staring off into the distance. He wasn’t a very tall gentleman, if you recall. I went up to him and said, “Frank, I’m Ernie Hackett. I don’t know if you remember me,” and he just nodded his head. “I just want to thank you so much for the donation you made for Dad’s benefit,” and all he did was nod his head in acceptance. He wouldn’t talk about anything nice that he did. That was very private to him.
But the punchline is this. And I always wondered, and I would almost guarantee that he came up and tapped me on the shoulder because he remembered that’s how I introduced myself to him. I’ll bet you anything, he said to himself, “I remember that kid. He’s Bobby Hackett’s son. He tapped me on the shoulder once.”
Here’s the side story about Wild Bill. You must know about him and his background. He wasn’t the quietest of souls. Cliff Leeman, of course, was his favorite drummer. And Wild Bill would come in to Condon’s, maybe two or three times a year, for a two-week stint. He always insisted on Cliff being there. This time around, Cliff was starting to fail, and he wasn’t feeling well any longer. So he told Ed Polcer and [Red] Balaban, who ran the place, that he couldn’t make it this time around. Well, Ed and Red decided to give me a shot at it, which I was very thankful for. I get to replace Cliff? Good enough that I’m replacing Connie Kay every night!
So, Monday came, and I’m coming in again with my snare and my stick bag, because Connie always left his drums there for me. I walked in to the club, and I saw that Wild Bill and his wife Anne were sitting all the way in the back, having coffee or something. We had never met. I walked in to the club, deposited my snare drum and bag on the stage, and came up, introduced myself. I said, “Hey, Wild Bill, a pleasure to meet you. I’m Ernie Hackett and I’ll be playing drums with you for the next couple of weeks.” He stood up and shouted, “WHERE THE FUCK IS CLIFF?” Well, that’s a fine how-d’you-do! How do you get over that one? Well, the ending of it was a sweet story. After the first set, Wild Bill came up to me and said, “I like the way you play.” And then he insisted, going forward, that if Cliff couldn’t make it, I had to be his replacement. So I had another medal on my chest. My head got a little bit bigger at that time. But I’ll never forget WHERE THE FUCK IS CLIFF? That was typical Bill.
Another one was Papa Jo Jones. You know how cantankerous he could be. He took me under his wing, and I used to love hanging with him at the bar after the gig, with the two of us getting drunk, or high, whatever, and he would go on a real rant, a tirade about anything! And then he’d turn around with a sly little smile, and wink at me, like “What kind of reaction did I get from that one?” He was letting me in on his game. He was very much an actor. God, what a talent. He used to sit in at the drums sometimes, after the gig, and just go up there with the brushes and play the drums. And my jaw would be on the floor. Then, the honor of letting me sit next to him at the bar, in his court.
One time, Ruby Braff and I had a falling-out. I joined the club! I interrupted him, one night when he was telling a joke. Oh my God. He stopped talking to me. I tried calling him, and he wouldn’t pick up the phone. Well, he’d pick up the phone (we didn’t have Caller ID back then) and hang up on me. We parted ways. We stayed away from each other a good amount of time, maybe six-seven-eight months. And then, all of a sudden, one night the Magic White Powder parade was marching downstairs and Ruby looked at me and said, “Come on. Come with us.” We both did that. And we came downstairs, we looked at each other, and started laughing, and he gave me a hug and said, “OK. The hatchet’s buried.” I said, “Thank you. It took you long enough,” and we were fine after that.
I loved Jimmy Andrews. Jimmy and I were the closest of friends. He was very quiet, but what a sense of humor, and a gentleman. I loved Mike Burgevin. Jimmy and Mike, they were like brothers. And Mike, a quiet guy but a real gentleman of a person.
My splash on the scene was after Dad passed, and I’m kind of happy it worked like that. It allowed me to be more of myself.
So when Dad passed, we were living up on Cape Cod there, and I was doing a lot of odd gigs there – Mom had the house. Mom wanted to sell the house and move back to New York, which is what we ended up doing, and I got married to my second wife at the time. We went back from Cape Cod to New York and got an apartment there. I thought, I have my drums here, I have a car, I’ve got to start getting into the scene. I’d drive into Manhattan and start hanging out at Condon’s and Ryan’s, three-four times a week, just to hang out, and eventually to sit in, which kind of broke the ice for me, because these guys got to hear what the Hackett kid could do.
And all the Black people had such respect for Dad and everyone took me under their wing. Do you know Jackie Williams? I understand he’s still going — another wonderful friend of the family, a funny, funny guy. I played with Roy Eldridge quite a bit, a wonderful guy, but I don’t think he enjoyed my style of playing as much as Condon’s did. But that didn’t get me. I don’t expect everyone in the world to love my style of drumming. But Roy was a wonderful guy. I loved him, and he always treated me with the utmost respect. I loved Jimmy McPartland too, a great character. And his wife! We weren’t that close as friends because he wasn’t as much a hanger-outer. I think he was curbing his drinking. Marian was very polite and demure, such a lady, and a fantastic musician. The two of them took me up to Salem, Massachusetts for a one-week gig with Frank Tate – he and I were great buddies, through Dad – and we had a great time.
The hangouts after the gig were the cream of the crop at Condon’s. The gigs were great, but I had to stay sober until the end of it, so I used to ration one Heineken at a break. But then, after the last set, I started mixing shots of Johnnie Black with it, and that’s when the party would begin. It was such an honor to be exposed to all that, to get to know all these guys.
There’s a thirty-minute video on YouTube of a night at Eddie Condon’s. That’s me on drums. I’ll never forget that night. It was, I believe, a Monday night, and I was subbing for Connie. I came in and was setting up my snare drum, and a couple of college-looking kids were setting up very professional video equipment, right in front of the bandstand. And I was always a rabble-rouser. I’m not proud of it all the time, but if there was trouble to be started it was started by me. I got done setting up the drums and rearranging the stands, and then I came down the stairs and the one guy who seemed to be more in charge – as it turned out, it was Red Balaban’s cousin – I politely asked him, “What are you going to be filming this for?” “Oh, it’s just a college project. It’s nothing more than that.” But there were two very professional-looking cameras. I said, “Oh, really. Is the club planning to pay the band scale for this, for the videotaping?” And he said, “No, we’re just a couple of college students.” I said, “Oh. I have to talk to Eddie Polcer about this,” and that’s how I left it. I think I told one of the college kids, “If the red light goes on, and we’re not getting paid scale, I’m not playing,” and evidently the kid went back to Eddie and told him.
So Eddie came in, and it was getting closer to hit time, maybe 8:30, and we were supposed to be going on in ten or fifteen minutes. I went outside to have a cigarette, and Polcer always bummed cigarettes off of me – that’s another story. Eddie came outside, and said, “So, you’re not going to play if the red light goes on?” I said, “Yeah, exactly. Eddie, you know how this works. You’re going to make a video, you’ve got to pay the musicians.” We were going back and forth. He didn’t want to give in. Finally, he said to me, “Do you know how much scale is?” “No,” I said, “but we can both find out in the morning with a call to Local 802.” This is what really got under his skin. He said, “If I pay you scale, will you play?” My reply was, “If you pay the whole band scale, yes,” and he just looked at me like he wanted to kill me, and he gave in at that point, “All right. You got it. They’ll all get scale.”
Years later, he was at the Atlanta Jazz Party, and my wife and I, when she was still here, God bless her, we used to go every year and visit with the guys from New York, and Eddie and I remained close friends. We’d hug each other and reminisce. And he told me, years later, “Red Balaban went to his death never knowing that you did that, that night. If I’d ever told him, he would have banned you from the club completely.” I said, “Thank you.” I was always on the ins and the outs with Eddie Condon’s. They finally stopped using me. If you go back and look at that video, Jimmy Andrews and I were the only two they didn’t interview – because we were the rough guys!
The good old days. Just an honor! And as Vic would say, “Ding ding!”
“Just an honor!” sums it up for me. Bless Ernie, and all our heroes above.
Thanks to CB Detective Agency for this newspaper ad.
The music that follows is brilliant, but the details surrounding it are vague. For one thing, most writers have misspelled the restaurant owner’s name as Terassi for decades. I’ve done it myself. Apologies to Lou.
I read in a British trade paper that this band, the Jimmy McPartland Sextet, was appearing at Lou Terrasi’s Hickory Log at the end of 1952, but I haven’t found a specific date for this recording. All trace of the Hickory Log has vanished, although it was still in operation in 1964. In 1975, the address was a restaurant that also featured music, the Spindletop (there’s a review of Maxene Andrews at that time) and should you go to that address now, it is Trattoria Tricolore.
Assuming that Terrasi was Italian, I’ve always thought the cuisine was also, but “Hickory Log” suggests charcoal-broiled steaks. I had two friends who celebrated their engagement at the bar in 1952, between Hot Lips Page and Zutty Singleton — a story I love. But I can no longer ask them for details.
Here’s a 1952 portrait by Bob Parent of Joe Sullivan at the Hickory Log piano, which also shows something of the decor. That curtain would haunt me:
2nd October 1952: American jazz musician Joe Sullivan (1906-1971) plays piano at Lou Terrasi’s ‘Hickory Log’ on West 47th St., New York City. (Photo by Bob Parent/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
But the music is vivid, a previously unknown version of the half-hour broadcasts done by Aime Gauvin, “Dr. Jazz,” featuring the Jimmy McPartland Sextet: McPartland, cornet; Dicky Wells, trombone; Cecil Scott, clarinet; Joe Sullivan, piano; Walter Page, string bass; George Wettling, drums; Marian McPartland, piano, on EMBRACEABLE YOU and SWEET GEORGIA BROWN. A bonus: even though we hear the crash of dishes (the kitchen and bandstand always seem to be adjacent) the ambiance is serene in comparison to Central Plaza or the Stuyvesant Casino.
The band, introduced by Leonard Feather, who also chats with both McPartlands, plays LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER / TIN ROOF BLUES / EMBRACEABLE YOU / BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME / SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.
Broadcasts like this originated with the Voice of America, beamed overseas to show the Communists the virtues of democracy and capitalism. Leaving the ideological wrappings aside, the music is superb: everyone is focused and effective, and no one sounds bored by the repertoire or its conventions. I don’t know if Walter or Dicky missed being with Basie, but I am sure they were pleased to spend their days at home rather than being on the band bus; Jimmy, Joe, George, Cecil, and Marian had been playing in small groups for decades. We hear the assurance of people who know the way, and that’s truly delicious.
Sadly, Eddie Condon’s music is misunderstood and dismissed these days. The serious “traditionalists” — whether they bow to Jim Robinson or Turk Murphy or a hundred other icons — accuse him of aesthetic impurity (the way they feel about Happy Cauldwell’s tenor saxophone on Jelly Roll Morton’s 1939 Victor session.) More “modern” listeners see FIDGETY FEET and flee; they also associate anything related to Eddie as identical to semi-professional “Dixieland” played from music stands or loud Bourbon Street busking.
I offer this half-hour Voice of America broadcast as a stimulating corrective to both views. Ironically, it is introduced by Leonard Feather, openly hostile to Eddie and his musicians, although he is polite enough here. It pleases me greatly that the VOA broadcasts began with a nearly-violent flourish from Hot Lips Page, one of Eddie’s best musical friends. The generous YouTube poster dates it as April 1951, but the concert — a tribute to the recovering Pee Wee Russell — happened on February 21, 1951, according to Manfred Selchow’s invaluable book on Ed Hall, PROFOUNDLY BLUE.
Something for everyone: serious collective improvisation by a group of players who are both exuberant and precise; rhapsodies; ballads; jazz classics. There’s kinshp between Buzzy Drootin and Max Roach, between Cutty Cutshall and Bill Harris, between Ernie Caceres and Ben Webster, between Joe Bushkin and Teddy Wilson. Heard with open ears, this music is timeless, as inspired as the sounds cherished by the Jazz Bureaucracy.
Here’s the bill of fare:
FIDGETY FEET / I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES: Wild Bill Davison, cornet; Cutty Cutshall, trombone; Edmond Hall, clarinet; Gene Schroeder, piano; Eddie Condon, guitar; Bob Casey, string bass; Buzzy Drootin, drums. UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE: Ernie Caceres, baritone sax; Schroeder; Al Hall, string bass; Drootin. I CAN’T GET STARTED – HALLELUJAH! Joe Bushkin, piano; Ray McKinley, drums. IN A MIST: Ralph Sutton, piano. BASIN STREET BLUES: as BUBBLES:
Once again, I am impressed by the storming drumming of Buzzy Drootin. If you share my admiration, I direct you to the two brilliant videos created by Kevin Dorn on YouTube — which made me appreciate Buzzy even more. Eddie and Co. I already appreciate over the moon. To quote Eddie, “Whee!”
Several eBay rambles turned up a hoard of beautiful unseen portraits — from the archives of the photographic giant Brown Brothers (who, I believe, divested themselves of the print archives a number of years ago). They remind me of a time when musicians, now obscure, were known to a large audience and had their remarkable faces in print.
Here are some of the treasures: the bidding was intense, so I did not acquire any of these, but the images are here for you to admire for free. The seller, evansarchive, has only one jazz photograph for sale as I write this, but the other photographs — film and stage actors — are equally fascinating.
Let us start with a particularly rare image — an unusual shot of the John Kirby Sextet on a very small bandstand, with glimpses of Kirby, Charlie Shavers, and Russell Procope (alas, no Buster Bailey) but a remarkable photograph of the short-lived drummer / vocalist O’Neil Spencer:
And here’s another under-celebrated hero, baritone saxophonist Jack Washington, definitely in action in the Count Basie band, with Vic Dickenson and another trombonist, possibly Bennie Morton, to his right. Vic is ignoring the photographer, but Jack — I think — is a little suspicious of the flash camera so near to his face:
and the real prize (which eluded me), a portrait of Frank Newton on a job:
I suspect this is a spring or summertime gig, given the lightweight suits — at some point Newton put his hand in his right jacket pocket and the flap is half-undone. I can’t identify the pianist, and the club is not familiar to me (which makes me think of Boston rather than New York City) but Ernie Caceres is immediately identifiable — with clarinet rather than baritone saxophone — and the skeptical-looking trombonist (gig fatigue or suspicion of a flashbulb explosion) might be Wilbur DeParis. But I’d love to know where and when: perhaps this is a hall rather than a jazz club?
Here’s composer, arranger, alto saxophonist Edgar Sampson in a photograph by Otto Hess:
Another Otto Hess photograph: Albert Nicholas and Zutty Singleton. Does the wall covering suggest Jimmy Ryan’s?
Stuff Smith in action (the photographer crouched behind the drum kit and the flashbulb rendered the underside of the cymbal bright white:
Bobby Hackett at Carnegie Hall, Eddie Condon behind him:
and just in case anyone needed confirmation:
Now, a few masterful percussionists. Jimmie Crawford:
and someone identified as Bauduc, but clearly not. Who’s it?
and some well-dressed luminaries who can certainly be identified, as well as the occasion — World Transcription session, 1944 — Wilbur DeParis, Bob Casey, and Pee Wee Russell:
From another source, Sidney Catlett in full flight. I can hear this photograph:
As I said, once upon a time these people were stars in larger orbits. Rather than mourn the shrinking of interest and knowledge, I celebrate the glorious circumstances that made these photographs “news.”
I’ve been collecting jazz records as long as I’ve been fascinated by the music. When I began, so much of the music I craved was not easily available, so I turned to other collectors for assistance, trading items back and forth with those who were generous. I have benefited so much from the kindness of collectors, some of whom who have moved on and others who are reading this post. And I cherish most those who are open-handed. I think of John L. Fell, Bill Coverdale, Bob Hilbert, Bill Gallagher among the departed: the living people know who they are and know how I value them.
One of the open-handed folks I celebrate is collector, discographer, and scholar Sonny McGown. An amiable erudite fellow, he doesn’t feel compelled to show off his knowledge or point out that his records are better than yours.
On this 2015 podcast, Sonny, in conversation with “spun counterguy,” tells of becoming a jazz-loving record collector here. It’s an entertaining interlude with good stories (among other subjects, DON’T BE THAT WAY and POP-CORN MAN) and musical excerpts.
Sonny is fully versed in 78s and 45s, and he understands the power technology has to make generosity easy, to share precious music. The word “broadcast” is apt here: one collector sending another a cassette, mp3, or burned CD is casting very small bits of bread on the waters.
About four months ago, he created his own YouTube channel, “Davey Tough” — and although it doesn’t yet have a large audience by YouTube standards, I am counting on this blogpost to remedy that. Sonny has been quietly offering rare music, well-annotated, one surprise after another. How about Goodman, Jack Teagarden, the aforementioned Dave Tough, Peanuts Hucko, Ray McKinley, Yank Lawson, Helen Ward, Dick Wellstood, Kenny Davern, Soprano Summit, Joe Marsala, Lou McGarity, Bobby Gordon, Charlie Byrd, Tommy Gwaltney, Clancy Hayes, Ralph Sutton, Wild Bill Davison, and other luminaries. And surprises! Some are from truly rare non-commercial records, others from even rarer tapes of live performances in clubs and at jazz parties.
I’ll start with the one performance that I already knew, because it is so much fun: clarinetists Ernie Caceres, Joe Marsala, Pee Wee Russell, playing the blues at a 1944 Eddie Condon concert — backed by Gene Schroeder, Bob Haggart, and Gene Krupa (with Bobby Hackett audible at the end):
Notice, please, unlike so much on YouTube, this is factually correct, in good sound, with an appropriate photograph.
Here’s a real rarity: Dave Tough as a most uplifting member of Joe Marsala’s very swinging mid-1941 band, more compact than the norm, certainly with Joe’s wife, Adele Girard on harp, and plausibly brother Marty on trumpet:
And another performance by the Marsala band with Adele and Dave prominent:
Backwards into the past, in this case 1933, not the familiar version of AIN’T ‘CHA GLAD, although we know the arrangement by heart:
and, finally, backwards into the more recent past, for Pee Wee Russell and Charlie Byrd at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C., from December 1957:
These are but a few of Sonny’s treasures. I resist the temptation to rhapsodize both about the sound of Dick McDonough and about Pee Wee, free to explore without restrictions, but you will find even more delights. I encourage readers to dive in and to applaud these good works by spreading the word.
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) /
No, not the Gershwins’ S’WONDERFUL, but the Stuff Smith – Mitchell Parish IT’S WONDERFUL, a sweet ballad rather than a witty romp. I stumbled on to the first version below by Alice Babs, whom I’d known for her work before and after Ellington, but this performance just embodies the title: the quality of something being so delightful that one trembles with awe. And wonder.
Here she is — a mature singer, with understated tenderness that comes right through. She’s accompanied by Charlie Norman, piano; Jan Adefelt, string bass; Lasse Persson, drums: recorded in Stockholm, autumn 1998:
Here’s the composer, with Carl Perkins, Curtis Counce, Frank Butler, in January 1957:
Martha Tilton with Benny Goodman in a live broadcast from the Madhattan Room of the Hotel Pennsylvania, December 22, 1937:
and one of my favorite recordings ever, JAZZ ULTIMATE, pairing Bobby Hackett and Jack Teagarden . . . with Peanuts Hucko, Ernie Caceres, Gene Schroeder, Billy Bauer, Jack Lesberg, Buzzy Drootin, from September 1957:
And Mister Strong, May 18, 1938, whom no one dares follow. Talk about WONDERFUL:
Mister Page signs in — first on paper, then audibly and memorably.
The response to my recent posting of Hot Lips Page playing and singing CHINATOWN (here) at a 1944 Eddie Condon concert was so strong that I thought it would be cruel to not offer more of the same immediately.
(Note: the cross-species inventiveness of this cover — that the birdies have cute human faces — is a whimsy of the sheet music artist’s, and it’s not part of the song, in case you were anxious about the possibilities of such genetic mingling.)
One of Lips’ favorite showpieces was the 1924 WHEN MY SUGAR WALKS DOWN THE STREET, and here are two sterling versions. The first is very brief but no less affecting. The collective personnel is Bobby Hackett, Pee Wee Russell, Max Kaminsky, Lips, Bill Harris, Ernie Caceres, Clyde Hart, Eddie Condon, Bob Haggart, Joe Grauso. New York, June 10, 1944:
Eight years later, Lips was part of an extraordinary little band, nominally led by drummer George Wettling: with Joe Sullivan, Pee Wee Russell, and Lou McGarity — a peerless quintet captured at the Stuyvesant Casino during one of “Doctor Jazz”‘s broadcasts, this one from February 15, 1952:
The advertisement shows that musicians were always trying to make an extra few dollars, and it also offers some unusual pictures of one of my heroes, Hot Lips Page, someone who couldn’t help swinging, no matter what the context.
Lips and Eddie Condon admired each other tremendously as people who could play Hot without any artifice, and the moments when Lips performed at Eddie’s concerts are magical. (Dan Morgenstern had the wondrous experience of seeing Lips sit in at Eddie’s club on Tuesday nights, something I can only imagine.) These cosmic collaborations took place not only at the 1944 Town Hall and Ritz Theatre concerts but on the television series, “Eddie Condon’s Floor Show” of 1948-50. Photographs show a trio performance by Lips, James P. Johnson, and Zutty Singleton, which I wouldn’t mind hearing. And before anyone writes in to inquire about the kinescopes of the Floor Show, I am afraid that they no longer exist, unless duplicate and triplicate sets were made. I feel your pain: it’s been mine for decades.
But we do have uplifting evidence (a recording I’ve loved for forty years).
To call that a live performance would be a gross understatement. It’s from a June 24, 1944 broadcast at Town Hall in New York City. Supporting Lips are Bobby Hackett, Max Kaminsky, Pee Wee Russell, Ernie Caceres, Gene Schroeder, Eddie Condon, Bob Haggart, Joe Grauso. I admire Haggart’s powerful support, but for me Lips is the whole show. Yes, there is some admiration for Louis evident, but Lips is playing Lips, and you could ask any trumpet player what a heroic accomplishment his playing is, chorus upon chorus, each one building on the predecessor so when the performance ends, one has the sense of a completed creation rather than a series of phrase-length ideas offered to us. Marc Caparone, who knows about such things from experience, calls Lips “Atlas,” and although that name might not have sold colas (“Royal Crown Cola . . . when you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders,” perhaps?) it’s more than accurate.
One more piece of jazz minutiae. The opening phrase of Lips’ CHINATOWN solo, the fanfare over Grauso’s drums, a syncopated bounce back and forth over two notes, sounds familiar because it’s the device Lester used to begin the issued take of SHOE SHINE BOY. I suspect it was in the air in Kansas City, and (not surprisingly) I think it probably appears on a Louis recording c. 1927. You are free to disagree in the privacy of your own homes, but Louis seems to be the root of all good things.
But back to Mister Page Play CHINATOWN again. It’s monumental.
Eddie Condon and his friends made hot music lyrical and the reverse, so what they played and sang always makes me glad. And Eddie loved to improvise on the best popular songs of the time, not just a dozen “jazz classics.”
I think most people associate EASTER PARADE with the film starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, but the song was from the 1933 show AS THOUSANDS CHEER — as the sheet music indicates. Here is a very sweet contemporaneous version by Joe Venuti and his Orchestra, with Joe very reserved. In addition to a nice orchestral sound, fine lively piano (Schutt?) and guitar (McDonough,Victor, or Kress?) — both unidentified in Lord and Rust — there is a gorgeous vocal by Dolores Reade, who gave up her singing career to marry Bob Hope. Nothing against the comedian, but that was a real loss to everyone else. (I found a copy of this 78 in a California thrift store, so it might have enjoyed some popularity.)
Here are several “Americondon” improvisations for this holiday, taken from the 1944-45 broadcasts of segments of Eddie’s Town Hall Concerts. Some of these videos end with the introduction to another song, but you can — I believe — find much more from these concerts on YouTube, almost always mysteriously labeled and presented. (Performances featuring Hot Lips Page are presented on a channel apparently devoted to Willie “the Lion” Smith, for reasons beyond me — whether ignorance or deceit or both, I can’t say. But if you know the name of a song performed at a Condon concert, you have a good change of uncovering it there.)
Those who listen attentively to these performances will find variations, both bold and subtle, in the four versions that follow — tempo, solo improvisations, ensemble sound.
Here’s that Berlin song again, featuring Bobby Hackett, Miff Mole, Pee Wee Russell, Ernie Caceres, Jess Stacy, Sid Weiss, Gene Krupa:
and featuring Max Kaminsky, Ernie, Pee Wee, Jess, Bob Casey, Eddie, Joe Grauso, at a slower tempo, with wonderful announcements at the end.
and featuring Max, Miff, Ernie, Pee Wee, Jess, Jack Lesberg, George Wettling, and happily, a much more audible Eddie — doing an audition for a Chesterfield (cigarette) radio program:
and from the very end of the broadcast series (the network wanted Eddie to bring in a comedian and he refused), here are Billy Butterfield, Lou McGarity, Pee Wee, Ernie, Gene Schroeder, Sid Weiss, and my hero, Sidney Catlett, whose accompaniment is a lesson in itself, and whose closing break is a marvel:
You’ll hear someone (maybe announcer Fred Robbins?) shout “WOW!” at the end of the first version: I agree. Happy Easter in music to you all.
JAZZ LIVES, like its creator, is a little eccentric (I write those words with pride): I don’t always rush to cover what everyone else is covering. But in the past few days, I’ve met several people, one a brilliant young musician, unaware of the riches made available by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, the Bill Savory Collection in two volumes with more to come . . . so I write these lines as a Swing Public Service.
A Savory Disc
Here’sLoren Schoenberg, the guiding genius of all things Savory, on NPR, just a few days ago on November 6, 2016.
Let me backtrack a bit. Some years back, the “Savory collection” was mythic and tantalizing. Jazz fans had heard of Bill Savory, an audio engineer and Benny Goodman devotee, who had recorded hours of live material off the air in the late Thirties. The evidence existed tangibly in a collection of BG airshots issued by Columbia Records to follow up on the incredible success of the 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert. Some years back, the indefatigable Loren unearthed the collection. I knew, step by painstaking step, of the heroic work that the peerless sound engineer and disc restorer Doug Pomeroy was doing in his Brooklyn studio.
Collectors were anxious to hear the Savory treasures: some made the trek uptown to the National Jazz Museum in Harlem to do auditory research. Excerpts were shared in news stories. But we wondered about the legalities (dealing with the estates of the musicians) and the eventual price to us. Recently, we learned that at least part of the Savory material was to be issued digitally through iTunes.
Like many listeners of a certain age, I grew up with music being available tangibly. I went to Sam Goody or King Karol and bought discs. Others I borrowed and taped. So the notion of, say, a Coleman Hawkins performance that I could hear only through my computer was mildly eerie. But some of the downloaded music can be burned to homegrown CD — with a reasonably easy learning curve — and once downloaded, they won’t go away even if your computer suddenly starts to emit purple smoke. If all of this is off-putting, one can buy a $25 iTunes gift card at the local supermarket or chain store; one can enlist someone under 30 to do the dance; one can hear treasures, most in gorgeous sound, never heard before. And the price is more than reasonable: each of the two volumes costs less than a CD.
On the subject of money: as always, enterprises like this stand or fall on our willingness to join in. I’m not saying that anyone should starve the children, but this music is terribly inexpensive. In speaking to some collectors, I found it wryly hilarious that more than one person said, “Oh, I only bought ____ tracks,” when I, being an elder, stifled my response that this was self-defeating.
In 1976, if you had said to me, “Michael, would you like to hear a jam session with Herschel Evans, Lionel Hampton, Dave Matthews, Charlie Shavers, Milt Hinton, Cozy Cole, and Howard Smith? Give me six dollars,” I would have been removing bills from my wallet even though I was earning a pittance in academia.
I also note that some jazz fans have commented on Facebook that they are enthusiastic in theory but waiting to purchase the volume that will contain their favorite band. If you don’t find something to admire here and now, I wonder about you.
Doug Pomeroy’s remastering of these precious discs is marvelous. The immediacy of the sound is both intense and immense, especially for those of us used to “airshots” recorded by some amateur Angel of Hot with the microphone up to the speaker of the radio console . . . then playing the disc a hundred times. Savory had an actual recording studio and could record the radio signal directly. On a few tracks, there is some gentle static, I believe caused by a lightning storm, but it’s atmospheric rather than distracting.
Here’sa detailed essay on Savory and his collection.
Having learned how to navigate iTunes, I have been listening to the first volume for the last few days. The second volume, sixty-two minutes of incredible live material in vibrant sound of the Count Basie Orchestra 1938-40 featuring Lester Young (also Herschel Evans, Buck Clayton, Jimmy Rushing) has proven too intense for me: I started to play the whole set and then found myself overcome, as if I’d tried to eat a whole chocolate cake in a sitting. I can see that I will spread out this disc over a week or more of intermittent listening, and then more weeks to come.
A very literate San Francisco guitarist, Nick Rossi (you should know him!) has written, at my request, a short appreciation of a Herschel Evans solo from the first volume — to be published here shortly.
The first volume starts off with a triumph — a monumental performance, tossed off casually by Coleman Hawkins. BODY AND SOUL, nearly six minutes (twice the length of the legendary Bluebird 78), followed by BASIN STREET BLUES, not something I’d associate with Hawkins, but it’s spectacular — also a leisurely performance. Two Ella Fitzgerald performances remind us of how girlish she sounded at the start: irreplaceable and tenderly exuberant. Next, a series of Fats Waller effusions live from the Yacht Club on Fifty-Second Street (now probably obliterated to make space for a chain pharmacy) where Fats is wonderfully ebullient, although the standouts for me are I HAVEN’T CHANGED A THING and YOU MUST HAVE BEEN A BEAUTIFUL BABY — the latter a new song at the time. There’s a spirited reading of HEAT WAVE by Carl Kress and Dick McDonough (amazing as a team) and one of CHINA BOY by the Emilio Caceres Trio featuring Emilio on violin and brother Ernie on reeds. And that jam session.
Jam sessions, when considered coolly decades later, tend to be lopsided affairs: someone rushes or drags, the tempo is too fast. But this jam session offers us the poignant evidence of one of our great lost heroes, Herschel Evans, not long before his death. He isn’t at full power, but he sounds entirely like himself — and the choruses here expand his recorded discography by a substantial amount.
The second volume offers what I noted above, but it bears repeating in boldface — sixty-two minutes of Lester Young and the Count Basie band in glorious sound — with more unfettered leisurely improvisation (how happy the band sounds to be playing for dancers and to have escaped the constraints of the recording studio). I’ve only heard three tracks: a jam session on ROSETTA, a very fast I AIN’T GOT NOBODY with a Jimmy Rushing vocal, and one other.
Words fail me, and that is not my usual reaction. I don’t think the rhythm section ever sounded so good, Freddie Green’s guitar so luminous. My friends tell me that Lester is astonishing throughout (this I would not argue) but that there are also clarinet solos. And in a complete loss of self-control, I found the superb full chorus for Vic Dickenson on I NEVER KNEW. Let joy be unconfined.
Hereis the most expansive description of both sets, with sound samples.
I’ll stop now, because readers have already gotten the point or have stopped reading. But please do visit the Savory Collection sites. And I suggest that the perfect holiday gift for yourself is acquiring both volumes. I don’t endorse a major corporation here, and I have been Apple-averse for as long as I can remember, but when the reward is Lester, Jimmy Rushing, Buck, Sweets, Jo Jones, Herschel, Hamp, Ella, Fats, Hawk, Vernon Brown, Milt, etc., I can conquer my innate distrust. And so can you.
Musicians’ relations to their material — whether they choose it or someone else does — are complex.
For some, “the material is immaterial,” which means “I will have a good time playing or singing whatever song is placed in front of me, and I will make it my own.” In this category, I think of Louis, Lips Page, Fats Waller, Mildred Bailey, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Jimmy Rushing, and many others. Other musicians like the comfort of the familiar: I think of Jack Teagarden, whose many versions of BASIN STREET BLUES are often full of small delightful surprises. Yet the familiar can be a trap, encouraging some musicians to “phone it in” or “go through the motions.”
The Blessed Eddie Condon exists by himself in those categories. Because so much of his musical life was spent outside of the recording studio, on bandstands and in concert halls, there might appear to be a sameness in his discography, with multiple versions of IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE — but that “song” was simply a beautiful structure within which his brilliant strolling players could express themselves to the utmost. Eddie cared very deeply for and about good songs, material that hadn’t been done to death. That is why (without looking at the discography) you will find few versions of INDIANA, SAINT JAMES INFIRMARY, and none of the SAINTS. And when he was working with the Blessed Milton Gabler — either for Commodore or Decca or World Transcriptions — the two men shared a love of melodic material. I don’t know who led the way, but I suspect that Eddie, who remembered songs, might have suggested to Milt a particular favorite of his childhood or the early Twenties: thus, DANCING FOOL; DON’T LEAVE ME, DADDY; IDA; OH, KATHARINA, and this lovely oddity:
How did this song come to be? It’s not explicitly a war song — the premise is simply that a pretty Dutch girl is waiting for the singer, and implicitly in the premise is that the singer will be kissed seriously when he shows up. Were the fellows in the Brill Building making jokes about “two lips” when someone said, “Hey, let’s write a Dutch song!” Was the “beside me / Zuider Zee” rhyme irresistible? But it has a forward-looking melody for 1915, thanks to Whiting (I can hear the Wolverines playing this, in my mind) and the lyrics are of their time but not ponderously so.
Here is a contemporary version — not the most famous one by Henry Burr, but a good recording, one I would happily play for a listener insistent that music began with electrical recording or even later:
When Eddie and Milt decided to record this song for Decca, thirty-two years later, it was not a spur-of-the-moment decision. It wasn’t LADY BE GOOD or RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, and one hears an arrangement that (I think) was done by Bobby Hackett, and done prior to the date. Who could go wrong with Jack Teagarden singing?
The personnel for this August 5, 1947 session is Bobby Hackett, cornet, probably arrangements; Max Kaminsky, trumpet; Jack Teagarden, trombone, vocal; Peanuts Hucko, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Ernie Caceres, alto and baritone saxophone; Joe Bushkin, piano; Eddie Condon, guitar; Jack Lesberg, string bass; George Wettling, drums:
Although that is a very short recording, it is full of pleasures: Jack’s trombone lazily ornamenting the melody over the four-horn statement of the theme; Bushkin, immediately identifiable, modulating for Jack’s vocal, with a Wettling accent to encourage everyone; Jack’s gorgeous voice — slightly nasal, Bing meets Louis in Texas, perhaps, streamlined but deeply earnest (with a different horn background — scored obbligati for four horns with Bushkin brightly commenting — beneath him); a Hucko half-chorus, sounding sweetly as if Bud were in the studio; Jack taking the last sixteen bars, vocally, with a scored phrase to finish it all out. The only thing “wrong” with that record is that it could have had one more chorus and still been a perfectly respectable 10″ 78.
What impresses me at this distance of nearly fifty years is how musical it all is. It doesn’t need to parade its “improvisatory” credentials: “We’re hot jazzmen and singers, you know.” The Condon-Gabler world didn’t always want to read from scores, but the musicians were perfectly capable of doing so, and the scored passages are expertly played. I also imagine someone tuning in the radio — AM, of course, in 1947 — hearing this new Decca waxing, a new platter, and thinking, “That’s a great record!” Which it was and is.
Why am I suddenly delving in to such obscurities? Well, no record that has Eddie Condon on it is unworthy; the same goes for the rest of the personnel, especially Mister Teagarden . . . and I have been listening to these overlooked Decca sessions — in glowing sound, with many unissued alternates — from the new Mosaic Eddie Condon / Bud Freeman set, which I reviewed here. Ecstatically.
I know this Mosaic set might get overshadowed by the latest glorious gift, the Lester Young effusion, and the Condon / Freeman one is already OLD, having come out in mid-2015, but when it’s sold out, don’t ring my buzzer and ask me to burn you copies of discs seven and eight. You’ve been warned.
It’s getting colder, which is both appropriate and reassuring because it is January. But if the descending temperatures oppress you, here’s a wonderful chance to become HOTTER THAN THAT in the New York winter. I don’t refer to new down parkas or thermoses full of the preferred hot dram . . . but to the New York Hot Jazz Festival. . . . the continuing creation of the indefatigable Michael Katsobashvili:
Details? How about a schedule of artists and times. (And there are seats — first come, first served, as well as room to dance.)
FRIDAY (doors at 5:45 pm)
6:20 – Tom McDermott (New Orleans piano explorer)
7:20 – Bumper Jacksons
8:40 – Evan Christopher’s Clarinet Road with Hilary Gardner
10:00 – Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars with Kat Edmonson
11:20 – Mike Davis’ New Wonders
SATURDAY (doors at 5:45 pm)
6:20 – Christian Sands (solo stride)
7:20 – Michael Mwenso & Brianna Thomas: Ella and Louis Duets – 60 Years
8:40 – Rhythm Future Quartet
10:00 – Tatiana Eva-Marie & The Avalon Jazz Band
with special guest Oran Etkin
11:20 – Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers
with Molly Ryan & Tamar Korn
That’s a wonderful mix of music — solo piano, small band, gypsy jazz, singers — all of the highest caliber. And although some New Yorkers might note local favorites, consider what it would cost to see them all in one evening, even if you could work out the transportation and timing. New Orleanians McDermott and Evan Christopher will bring their own special rhythmic tang to the New York winter.
If you need more evidence,hereare videos of the artists above.
Here‘s the way to buy tickets. It’s an absolute bargain, and New Yorkers love nothing better.
The place? The Ballroom at Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow Street (West of 7th Ave South), New York, New York.
And for inspiration, here’s a 1949 version of HOTTER THAN THAT, performed live on the Eddie Condon Floor Show — Eddie was the first jazz musician to have his own television show — featuring Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Peanuts Hucko, Ernie Caceres, Gene Schroeder, Eddie, Jack Lesberg, and Sidney Catlett.
The endearing singer Lee Wiley was said to have legendary erotic energies, but they are not my subject.
Rather, I present to you two public photographs just encountered on eBay — each one oddly evocative, both presenting and concealing.
The first finds Miss Wiley with the composer Victor Young — a publicity shot from the early Thirties (circa 1934-6) for Al Jolson’s radio program SHELL CHATEAU:
and the slip glued to the photograph’s back:
That photograph has an understandable stiffness: two musicians caught in the act of pretending to rehearse. Everything is too neat: the “informal” clothing; the way that they are both looking at the camera while trying not to — not at each other. I can hear the photographer: “Look like you’re singing, Lee. Victor, don’t look down at the piano. Look as if you’re accompanying her but don’t look at her.”
From this photograph, one wouldn’t know that Lee and Victor were “an item,” lovers for a long time. There was a Mrs. Young, but the Wiley-Young affair was known among musicians. The photograph of “Lee Wiley . . . and her old maestro” doesn’t even look as if they knew each other before this session. The truth of Lee and Victor — one of the possible truths — would not have been captured for the public eye. Is it fitting that Lee and Victor made music together most frequently for records and radio broadcasts, where they would have been heard but never seen?
Slightly less than a decade later, another uncomfortable photograph freezes a present moment and accurately forecasts a less happy future:
Granted, wedding pictures do not always catch the moment in authentic ways, but the body language of this couple is less than ardent: their hands barely touch, their gazes are remote. Even the text of the press release is more concerned with Lieut. Boettcher than with Jess Stacy, a great artist and a gentle man but hardly a “member of a wealthy Denver family.” (Was this Charles Boettcher II, who had been kidnapped in 1933 and a $60,000 ransom paid?)
The back of the picture tells its own story. The marriage did not last five years.
These photographs come from the files of J. Walter Thompson. Years later, an administrative assistant went through the files with a rubber stamp, noting the DECEASED — a job with certain melancholy overtones. (I think of Bartelby in the Dead-Letter Office.) Someone on eBay will buy these as cheerful nostalgic artifacts.
Music, Maestro, please?
CARELESS LOVE is from 1934 — Lee, with Victor directing.
SUGAR is from a 1944 Eddie Condon Town Hall concert / radio broadcast (Ernie Caceres, clarinet).
And — since I can’t see it too often — here is Joe Rushton’s home movie of Lee and Jess, newly married, walking down the street. Is it the same day as the press photograph? Lee has on a different outfit; Jess wears what seems to be the same double-breasted suit. Consider what this shows of their marriage.
Does the camera capture only a moment of staged reality or does it show more than we know at the time?
I had not known much about baritone saxophonist / composer Pepper Adams before a friend lent me a copy of Gary Carner’s book on him (now in paperback from Scarecrow Press) but I commend both Pepper and the book to you.
First, some music — an excerpt from an uptempo STRAIGHT, NO CHASER with Clark Terry, recorded in 1978:
The book is well-researched, rather than opinion. Not only did its author speak with Pepper and JOY ROAD is introduced by the eminent Dan Morgenstern, but no other book I know has enthusiastic blurbs from both Phil Woods (alto) and Philip Levine (poetry).
JOY ROAD is an annotated discography. To those not deeply involved in the music, such a work may seem a collection of marginally-useful pieces of arcane information, suitable only to those strange creatures, “record collectors,” concerned with whether that Charlie Parker solo recorded on a cardboard disc was issued on a Bolivian compact disc. I am exaggerating, but not that much.
But as an annotated bibliography would tell us a great deal about the artistic life of a writer and her relations with the marketplace, an annotated listing of a musician’s recordings would map an artistic journey. The book does not purport to be a biography — Carner is working on one now and hopes it will be finished by Adams’ centennial — but it is full of information about Adams’ life and music from 1947 to his death in 1986. And that information is more than listings of songs, original compositions, recording data, issued or unissued performances. What makes Carner’s book more than a useful reference work is the interviews he conducted with Pepper and the people who knew and worked with him.
When I received a copy of JOY ROAD, I opened it at random, out of curiosity. I had not been terribly involved in Adams’ work — coming from a long immersion in Harry Carney and Ernie Caceres, among others. But I stood in the middle of the living room, reading eagerly for a half hour, before remembering that a) I could sit down, and b) other tasks had to be taken care of. If a book can “stop me in my tracks,” it is one I will read, keep, and value.
Many jazz musicians, so eloquent as creators, grow reticent when asked to speak about their art and their colleagues. Much of what is published as treasured narrative is frankly insubstantial: “Oh, she liked her drink after the set was through!” “Did I ever tell you the story of X at the diner and what he said to the waiter?” “Y couldn’t stand Z, and always called Z names, but when they got on the stand, they blew!” If we didn’t feel that our heroes were so precious that any scrap of anecdotage, no matter how thin, brought us a step closer, no one would retell such stories. But JOY ROAD is not a collection of shards and detritus important only because they connect with someone we value. Carner’s musicians have been unsually articulate, and their stories have shape and heft.
We read about a bizarre and satisfying gig (even televised) where Pepper, David Amram, and Elvin Jones played at a Horn and Hardart automat in midtown Manhattan; Hank Jones tells Carner, “I never felt I was up to his standards, to tell you the truth. I was reaching to play along with him”; we learn of Adams’ early work with Stan Kenton, Benny Goodman, Maynard Ferguson, Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman; encounters with Alfred Lion, Joihn Hammond, and Rudy Van Gelder; concert performances with Mingus and Monk; encounters with younger European musicians and elders of the tribe including Fess Williams, Cozy Cole, Joe Wilder, Benny Carter, Milt Hinton; the birth and development of the Thad Jones – Mel Lewis Orchestra; an informal session in Eugene H. Smith’s loft with Adams playing piano to Zoot Sims’ tenor; recordings with Donald Byrd, Oliver Nelson, Duke Pearson, Blue Mitchell, Jimmy Rowles, Joshua Breakstone, and a hundred other notables.
Equally intriguing are glimpses into the life of a valued New York session player, for Adams was understandably in-demand for pop recordings, often as an uncredited member of the ensemble, with Aretha Franklin, Dakota Staton, Sonny and Cher, The Cowsills, The Nice, The Rascals, Brook Benton, Jon Lucien, Esther Phillips, film soundtracks, industrial films, and more.
Ultimately, JOY ROAD did a number of things for me, even though my first reading of this 550-plus page book was of necessity quick rather than deep. I found recordings I’d known nothing about — Carner has had access to Adams’ personal appointment book, and has spoken with more than a hundred musicians. But more than that, I have a sense of Adams as an individual — reading Dostoevsky, listening to Berg, encouraging younger musicians, fierce when he felt unjustly treated — and I look forward to the biography, which Carner is tentatively calling In Love with Night.
I will close with my single Pepper Adams sighting. In 1972, several friends and I followed Ruby Braff to gigs. Although Ruby was unpredictable and unreasonably given to rage, he was always pleasant to us and allowed us to tape-record him. On July 19 of that year, my friend Stu and I came to the Half Note to record Ruby with the Welsh pianist Dill Jones, bassist George Mraz (then working with Pepper in the Thad Jones – Mel Lewis ensemble, and Dottie Dodgion on drums. About two -thirds through the evening, where the music had been very sweet, with Ruby’s characteristic leaps through the repertoire of Louis, Duke, and Billie, a tall man ascended the stand with a baritone saxophone, was greeted warmly by the players, and the quintet launched into an extended blues in Ab. I remember Dottie Dodgion being particularly enthusiastic about the unnamed musician’s playing, who packed his horn and went off into the warm Greenwich Village night. Who was that unmasked man? The subject of Carner’s book, and yes, the tape exists, although not in my possession.
I don’t ordinarily join in the chorus of people celebrating the birthdays of those who have left us, but, “from Ketchikan to Calcutta,” we can all salute Eddie Condon, who was born November 16, 1905. . . . with a little music, as he would have liked — in this case, an AFRS transcription of a Town Hall concert from September 9, 1944.
An April 1942 advertisement: thanks to MULE WALK AND JAZZ TALK
The collective personnel, as explained by Mister Condon — from the hallowed and gilt-edged Town Hall — is Max Kaminsky, Muggsy Spanier, Billy Butterfield, trumpet / cornet; Miff Mole, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Ernie Caceres, baritone saxophone; Gene Schroeder, Bob Haggart, bass; Condon, Gene Krupa, Joe Grauso, drums.
Some stream-of-delighted-consciousness notes on the music: LOVE NEST (with Krupa accents during Mole’s solo, continuing to push Max onwards, then Pee Wee). Some words from Eddie and Gene, leading in to BIG NOISE FROM WINNETKA (how beautiful the sound of Haggart’s bass is!); a salute to Louis — with a brief arranged introduction — in BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN (with Muggsy replacing Max) — pay close attention to Pee Wee’s sixteen bars, where he seems to float backwards against the nearly-violent current of the music — before Muggsy pays the Master homage. A pause before THE BLUES BY PEE WEE RUSSELL with dark filigree by Schroeder behind him; then HEEBIE JEEBIES featuring Billy Butterfield and Joe Grauso (Krupa may have had to sprint back to his regular gig at the Capitol Theatre) — with some skips in the disc during Miff’s solo; then the closing IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE, with the soloists announced: Schroeder, Caceres, Mole (nifty pushing riffs behind him), Max, Muggsy with his plunger mute, Pee Wee, Billy Butterfield, Haggart, Schroeder for another circuit, Caceres also, Max, Muggsy, Pee Wee (the subject of sarcastic witticisms), Butterfield, Grauso . . . .leading into an ensemble paraphrase of DIPPERMOUTH BLUES with drum breaks. And that applause was real (with unannounced segments of BIG BOY and SWING THAT MUSIC — Krupa audibly present on the latter — spliced in from a different concert: I hear Max, Pee Wee, Caceres, and Benny Morton up front.)
I have a wall of CDs, and a good many of them are by Eddie Condon and his friends, but I would certainly love to live in an alternate universe where on a Saturday afternoon I could be sure of turning on my radio and hearing a half-hour of this splendor.
Note: the music from this transcription — without the AFRS “fillers” at the end can be heard, in better sound quality, on Volume Five of the comprehensive Jazzology Records series of Condon concerts 1944-45, more than twenty CDs in all.
This one’s for Hank O’Neal — who enabled many of us to hear the Town Hall concerts for the first time — and for Maggie Condon, for many reasons.
What follows is the video record of a rewarding evening I spent observing — and being uplifted by — James Dapogny and his East Coast Chicagoans on November 16, 2012, at the Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church, Silver Spring, Maryland.
The Real Thing, as we say: a small band neatly yet passionately improvising and recreating lively hot music.
Leader James Dapogny, pianist, scholar, poet, wit, barrelhouse master, is one of my heroes — and if you don’t know his work . . . . where have you been? He assembled a fine band: Randy Reinhart, cornet; David Sager, trombone (who did the hard work of making this concert a reality); Anita Thomas, Scott Silbert, reeds; Tommy Cecil, string bass; Craig Gildner, guitar; Brooks Tegler, drums. No funny vocals, no gimmicks or tricks — just surging, delicate, detailed jazz. An honor to be there! And this post is for those of you, like the writer Gretchen Comba and Aunt Ida Melrose, and many other friends, who couldn’t make it. It was good.
W. C. Handy’s BEALE STREET (in the arrangement that I recognize from the 1944 Commodore session that featured a front line for the ages — Miff Mole, Ernie Caceres, Bobby Hackett, Pee Wee Russell):
Jelly Roll Morton’s forward-looking (1930!) BLUE BLOOD BLUES:
Alex Hill’s DELTA BOUND:
Hoagy Carmichael’s OLD MAN HARLEM:
Roy Eldridge’s THAT THING:
Chris Smith’s TOOT TOOT, DIXIE BOUND:
A lyrical Thirties song, something I’ve only heard when Professor Dapogny is at the keys, COUNTRY BOY:
In honor of the Ellington small groups, LOVE’S IN MY HEART:
Juan Tizol’s Middle Eastern revery, CARAVAN:
The ideal state of affairs, BREEZIN’ ALONG WITH THE BREEZE:
Hill’s TENNESSEE TWILIGHT:
I’d like to see Dapogny concerts like this in every city on a regular basis. Wouldn’t you?
THIS JUST IN (Sept. 8, 2012): BORN TO PLAY is available at a special discount price. I feel honored — this is the first official JAZZ LIVES promotional code!
JAZZ LIVES SPECIAL PRICE: Available directly from the publisher with 25% discount ($71.25 + $5.00 shipping): https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780810882645 and enter special Jazz Lives promotion code in shopping cart: 7M12BTPRB
I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time, and it’s even better than I anticipated. It is the latest volume in the Scarecrow Press “Studies in Jazz” series, nearly 750 pages of information about the late cornetist.
Its author, Thomas P. Hustad, knew Ruby, spoke with him, and had Ruby’s full cooperation and enthusiastic advocacy. Although the book isn’t a biography, nearly every page offers a deeper understanding of Ruby, musician and personality, and the contexts within which he operated.
Ruby would have been a challenging subject for a typical biography. For one thing, although jazz musicians seem to lead unusual lives (nocturnal rather than diurnal hours, for one thing) they take their work with the utmost seriousness, and their daily responsibilities are not much different from ours. A diary of what Ruby, for instance, accomplished when the horn was not up to his lips, might not be particularly revealing. And Ruby’s strong, often volatile personality might have led a book astray into the darker realms of pathobiography: a chronological unfolding of the many times Ruby said exactly what was on his mind with devastating results would grow wearying quickly, and would leave even the most sympathetic reader with a sour impression.
No, Ruby wanted to be remembered for his music, and Tom honored that request. So there is no psychoanalysis here, in an attempt to explore why Ruby could be so mercurial — generous and sweet-natured to some, vocal in defense of his friends, furious at injustice, fiercely angry without much apparent provocation otherwise. True, the reader who peruses this book for tales of inexplicably bad behavior will find some, but BORN TO PLAY offers so much more.
Its purpose is to celebrate and document Ruby’s playing and recording over more than half a century. What a body of recordings he left us! From the earliest Boston broadcasts in 1949 to his final August 2002 appearance in Scotland with Scott Hamilton (happily available on an Arbors Records 2-CD set), Ruby played alongside the greatest names in jazz history.
Without looking at the book, I think of Pee Wee Russell, Vic Dickenson, Jo Jones, Nat Pierce, Dave McKenna, Freddie Green, Milt Hinton, Walter Page, Buck Clayton, Buddy Tate, Dick Hafer, Scott Hamilton, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Dick Hyman, Teddi King, Lee Wiley, Ellis Larkins, Mel Powell, Oscar Pettiford, George Wein, George Barnes, Michael Moore, Ralph Sutton, Kenny Davern, Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden, Howard Alden, Frank Tate, Jack Lesberg, John Bunch, Sir Charles Thompson, Trummy Young, Bob Wilber, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Dan Barrett, Tony Bennett, Coleman Hawkins, Lawrence Brown, Ernie Caceres, Bob Brookmeyer, Benny Morton, Roy Eldridge, Jimmy Rushing, Urbie Green.
BORN TO PLAY is more than a straightforward discographical listing of Ruby’s issued recordings (although even there I found surprises: Ruby’s sessions with the Weavers, a final unissued Vanguard session, work with Larry Adler, Lenny Solomon, and others). From his earliest appearances, listeners noticed that Mr. Braff was something special. Jazz critics made much of him as an “anachronism,” someone whose style came out of Louis Armstrong rather than Miles Davis, but such assessments missed the point.
Ruby was one of the great romantics and improvising dramatists: he could take the most familiar melody and find new lyricism in it, singing it out as if he had become Fred Astaire or Judy Garland or Chaplin in CITY LIGHTS rather than “a saloon entertainer with a bit of tin in his hand.” Ruby’s playing touches some hidden impulses in us — our need to express emotions without holding back — but his wasn’t the “barbaric yawp,” but quiet intensity with many surprises on the way.
His admirers (among whom I count myself) paid tribute to their hero by recording his performances whenever possible — the chronicle of private recordings begins in 1949 and continues to the end. Those private recordings are more than tantalizing: Ruby’s encounters with Louis, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Buddy Rich, Danny Moss, Sidney Catlett, Benny Carter . . .as well as his day-to-day gigs with musicians both famous and little-known across the globe.
One of the surprises in this book is that Ruby worked so often: before he became known for his singular approach to melodic improvisation, he was a diligently gigging musician. (In print, Ruby sometimes complained about his inability to find congenial work: these listings suggest that aside from some early stretches where it was difficult to get gigs, he was well-employed.)
BORN TO PLAY also contains rare and unseen photographs, and the text is interspersed with entertaining stories: Nat Pierce and the sardine cans, Benny Goodman and the staircase, and more.
What this book reminds us of is the masterful work of an artist performing at the highest level in many contexts for an amazing length of time . . . all the more remarkable when you recall that Ruby suffered from emphysema as early as 1980. Without turning his saga into a formulaic one of the heroic artist suffering through disabling illnesses, Hustad subtly suggests that we should admire Ruby much more for his devotion to his art than stand back in horrified wonder at his temper tantrums. And Tom is right.
Ruby emerges as a man in love with his art, someone so devoted to it that the title of the book becomes more and more apt as a reader continues. I have only read it intermittently, but find it both entrancing and distracting. Much of this is due to Tom Hustad: a tireless researcher (still finding new information after the book’s publication), a fine clear writer, and someone Ruby trusted . . . so the book floats along on a subtle friendship between subject and chronicler. And Tom was there at a number of sessions, providing valuable first-hand narratives that enlighten and delight — especially telling are his stories of relationships between Ruby and his champions: John Hammond, George Wein, Hank O’Neal, Tony Bennett, Mat and Rachel Domber, and others.
And the little details that make a book even better are all in place: a loving introduction by one of Ruby’s long-time friends, Dan Morgenstern; a cover picture showing Ruby and Louis (the photographer another great friend of the music, Duncan Schiedt) . . . and orange was Ruby’s favorite color — one he associated with the aural experience of hearing Louis for the first time, his sound blazing out of the radio speaker. The layout is easy on the eye, all in nicely readable type.
In the interests of full disclosure (as the lawyers and politicians say) I should point out that I admire Ruby’s playing immensely, met him in 1971, spoke with him a number of times, saw him at close range, and contributed information about some private sessions that I recorded to this book.
BORN TO PLAY is a fascinating document, invaluable not only for those who regarded Ruby as one of the marvels of jazz — it is also a chronicle of one man’s fierce determination to create beauty in a world that sometimes seemed oblivious to it. Many large-scale works of scholarship are thorough but cold, and the reader feels the chill. Others have adulation intrude on the purpose of the work. Tom Hustad’s book is an ideal mixture of scholarship, diligence, and warm affection: its qualities in an admirable balance. I think the only way this book could have been improved would have been for Ruby to continue on past 2002 and the book to follow him.
Eddie Condon left us in 1973, but the musical cosmos he created lives on in 2011 and beyond. It’s not difficult to imagine his approving shade at Whitley Bay, at The Ear Inn, at Jazz at Chautauqua — when gifted men and women get together to worship at the shrine of Hot Jazz, of graceful melodic improvisation, of swinging solos and ensemble. And today would have been his birthday. But any day is a good one to remember Eddie, as a prophet and advocate of beautiful energetic collective improvisations.
I’ve chosen to honor him through music rather than on film. Here are three examples of what he did so well. The first is the opening segment from a 1944 Condon concert, as broadcast on the radio and to the troops. You’ll hear Bobby Hackett, Pee Wee Russell, Benny Morton, Gene Schroeder, Eddie, Sid Weiss, and Gene Krupa:
And just because Eddie and the boys (in this case, Max Kaminsky, Brad Gowans, Pee Wee, Joe Sullivan, Al Morgan, Eddie, and George Wettling) found the twelve-bar blues a real source of inspiration, here are two of the life-enhancing Commodore 12″ 78s in honor of John Steinbeck — Tortilla B Flat:
and More Tortilla B Flat:
Thanks to Hal Smith — who knows the spirit of Condon well! — for the timely reminder.
Originally published in The Mississippi Rag, February 1999
In the relatively short history of jazz, many strange and spectacular characters have made unique contributions to the music and its lore. April 1999 marks the 43rd anniversary of the time one of the strangest, and in some ways most spectacular characters attracted attention with a comeback album.
His name was Boyce Brown, and he had been among the best saxophonists in jazz, rating high in the survey lists of Down Beat magazine, the bible of jazz. But it wasn’t so much the comeback as it was where he came back from that attracted attention.
Brown had given up music to become a Brother in the Catholic Church and was in the midst of undergoing years of training to enter the strict Servite Order. He was having a middle-age metamorphosis, and his effort to create a new life was causing considerable controversy within the Church, where many priests and Servites questioned his seriousness of purpose and wondered whether he really had abandoned his former life.
Boyce Brown was a man out of place — out of place in jazz, and, because he came from the jazz world, perhaps out of place in the world of Catholicism that he sought.
If ever a soul seemed lost in the raucous, raunchy, rigorous life of jazzmen, it was the gentle, contemplative, ascetic Boyce Brown, whose quiet, unobtrusive nature was made the more so by impaired vision, an odd appearance, and herky-jerky body movements caused by physical deformities. Yes, for 20 years or more, he was listed among the top alto saxophonists in jazz.
His birth in Chicago, or April 16, 1910, had been difficult. It was a breech delivery, and when Boyce finally emerged, he was seriously injured. The doctor put Boyce aside and devoted his attention to saving the mother. Boyce’s Aunt Harriet, who was in the delivery room, saw what was happening and moved to do what she could for the baby. She picked up the misshapen and struggling newborn and literally shaped his head with her hands, saving his life. But, among other injuries he suffered, one eye was gone and the other was damaged.
So, as an adult, Boyce Brown faced the world with a glass eye, limited vision in the other eye,an oddly-shaped head and a partially caved-in chest. He walked sort of lop-sided, with a halting, loping gait, one shoulder drooping. Sometimes he would hold his head at funny angles, stretching out his neck like a bird truing to find kernels of grain. Some people even called him “Bird” in those days before fellow altoist Charlie Parker came along and became “Bird” for all time.
It wasn’t just his appearance that set Brown apart in the jazz world. He liked to write poetry, and he liked to talk about it and discuss philosophy and other deep, unjazz-like subjects, to the confusion and consternation of his fellow musicians. Besides, he lived with his mother.
Boyce started playing the saxophone at 14 and by the time he was 17 in 1927 got his first job. It was with a trio in a joint called Amber Light, owned by Al Capone and managed by Bugs Moran. Moran showed solicitude for the youngsters in the band by telling them to hide behind the piano if customers started shooting.
Brown’s playing attracted the attention of other musicians, and when Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey came to town with their new joint band, Tommy went to hear Boyce and then asked him to join them. But when Boyce sat in with the Dorsey band, he got the volatile Tommy upset when he cocked his head at a strange angle and leaned over to squint at the music. Tommy thought the audience would be distracted and put off by the contortions. Boyce told Tommy he had to bend over only once per sheet of music because he could memorize it at a glance, despite his poor vision. He had a photographic memory, and perfect pitch as well.
Nevertheless, Brown lacked self-confidence, and he also was afflicted by a sense of responsibility. He felt he should stay with and support his mother because his father was an alcoholic and unreliable.
So, Brown stayed home. Although he subsequently toured around the country with different bands, he chose to play most of the 20 prime years of his musical career at the Liberty Inn, a strip joint on Chicago’s rowdy North Clark Street.
Boyce Brown in the Liberty Inn was the definition of incongruity. He drank, but not to excess, and, of course, he couldn’t see much of what was going on. Sometimes he sat backstage between shows reading philosophy, his face literally buried in the book. This disturbed some people because they didn’t understand it.
Despite his aloofness, Brown liked the girls. They were kind to him and seemed to understand him — although they perhaps wondered why he never made passes at them and otherwise ignored their nakedness. He told friends that the girls were nice and not bad as most people seemed to think. At one point, Brown was briefly engaged to a girl outside the business, but he again decided he couldn’t leave his mother and Aunt Harriet, whom he also was helping.
Time and again he left the Liberty Inn to play with other bands, but he always returned. Something there suited him. Maybe it was a psychological refuge; there was much honesty and little pretense in the Liberty Inn.
As the years passed, Brown was bothered more and more by the contrast between his manner of making a living and his attitudes about life and people developed through his philosophical readings. He got in the habit of going for long walks in the early morning hours after work, wondering about his life as a musician, the paradoxes and the fact that he wasn’t fully utilizing his abilities. He became depressed and even thought about suicide.
One morning his walk took him past St. Gertrude’s Catholic Church on Granville Avenue, and he heard organ music. He stopped to listen. As children, he and his brother, Harvey, had been iterested enough in classical music to stage record concerts for their friends.
Brown returned to the church morning after morning to listen to the music, and he soon began going inside to hear better. One morning a priest noticed him standing in the shadows at the back of the church and approached to welcome him. From that contact, one thing led to another and on August 12, 1952, Boyce Brown, who had been raised an Episcopalian, became a Catholic. He was 42 years old.
But just being a Catholic didn’t satisfy him. He wanted deeper involvement. One day at St. Gertrude’s, he met Father Ed Calkins, a missionary of the Servites, a religious order of friars started in the 13th century. Brown asked about taking his religious feelings further.
Father Ed sent Brown to the Servites’ director of vocation, Father Hugh Calkins, his brother (two other Calkins brothers also were priests). Father Hugh listened as Brown described his concern about being accepted for further work in the church. He feared his background of playing jazz in “low” places for so many years would rule him out. Father Hugh let Brown ramble on about his worries for a time, and then told him he would make a good Brother in the Servite Order.
As for jazz, Father Hugh said, it just so happened that he himself was fond of jazz. In fact he was a pretty good amateur pianist, if he did say so himself, and felt he and Brown would enjoy playing together.
After a few more interviews, in the fall of 1953 Boyce Brown entered the monastery and began training to become a Brother. When Father Hugh was questioned by a superior about Brown’s seriousness of purpose, he said Brown was one of the most deeply spiritual men he had ever met.
That was fine, the superior said, bring him in. “He might say enough prayers to get the rest of us into Heaven.”
Two years later, Brown entered the Novitiate at Mount Saint Philip Monastery about 10 miles north of Milwaukee and on Feb. 26, 1956, took his vows as Brother Matthew.
Part of Boyce Brown’s training, and his vocation as a Brother, involved menial work in the monastery, kitchen, tailor shop, laundry, bakery, and boiler room, and he swept the halls. Sometimes, when his work was done, he played the saxophone, but not often. His first year of training, he played hardly at all, so everyone was surprised when, at the Christmas party, Brother Hugh sat down to play the piano — and called on Brown to get his saxophone. When he and Brown got going, Father Hugh said, they “rocked the refectory,” and played together many times after that.
Father Hugh, outgoing and enthusiastic, had a talent for public relations — another incongruity — and when Brown took his vows, the priest sent out a press release. A week later, Time Magazine and other publications carried items with the news.
About two weeks after that, the Chicago Tribune carried a front-page story about the jazzman turned Brother. This was followed by a picture story in the Trib‘s rotogravure section.
As the word spread, ABC-Paramount telephoned Father Hugh and asked if Brother Matthew could go to New York and make a record. Father Hugh, bursting with excitement, got an okay from church superiors and then got in touch with jazz spokesman Eddie Condon, who knew Brown in his early days, and asked him to handle arrangements for a record date.
Father Hugh’s press release now had gathered maximum momentum. Father Hugh had become official spokesman, escort, PR man and general factotum for Brother Matthew. (Later, he collected considerable information and provided much of the material for this article.) Father Hugh and his charge appeared and played on Garry Moore’s “I’ve Got A Secret” television program, with Moore himself on drums, the day before the record session. They played “My Blue Heaven.”
Boyce Brown’s and Father Hugh’s “secret” was that they played jazz in a monastery. The panel was game show host Bill Cullen, who was raised a Catholic, radio comedian Henry Morgan, supposedly an agnostic; and actress Faye Emerson, then married to bandleader and pianist Skitch Henderson. Her religious beliefs were unknown, but she was the one who guessed the “secret,” but not until the time allotted to do so had expired. She finally remembered seeing Brown’s picture in Time, and Henderson had told her about Brown’s past and background.
Father Hugh and Boyce spent that night in the Abbey Hotel, and the religious motif was played to the hilt. The next day, a Life Magazine photographer showed up at the recording session, and a spread of pictures appeared in the April 23, 1956 issue.
Condon had rounded up a band of star jazzmen: on cornet, Wild Bill Davison, who had played with Brown in the old days; Gene Schroeder on piano; Pee Wee Russell on clarinet; Ernie Caceres on baritone sax; Cutty Cutshall on trombone; George Wettling on drums; Bob Casey on bass and on a few numbers, Paul Smith on guitar. The session was a little more orderly, somber and sober than might have been the case in Brown’s former life, but Davison and a couple of others nevertheless broke out the booze, and Brown joined in without hesitation, showing he still was one of the boys.
Unfortunately, he still wasn’t one of them musically. The tunes played included Brown’s “theme song,” “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise,” plus “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Blues for Boyce,” a tune improvised for the occasion. While Brown still was holed up in the Liberty Inn tootling for the strippers, the others had been learning from each other and their colleagues and developing as musicians. The upshot was that his horn figuratively became caked with rust. However, the record was issued, entitled Brother Matthew, and although it wasn’t really that bad, it was not a success. It did not create a demand for more music from the monastery. This was a disappointment to Father Hugh, but probably not to Brown.
Father Hugh had hoped to use the record as a fund-raiser for the Servites and their missions in South Africa, but a hit record and satisfying demands for more might not have been Brother Matthew’s idea of serving God, his fellow man and himself in the quietude of a monastery. Brown told Father Hugh he felt he had said all he had to say through his music. After all, that was a life he voluntarily gave up.
So, sans success, Brother Matthew was allowed to go back to his chores and his meditations, but his serenity was gone.
In early 1957, Dave Garroway called and wanted to do a segment on Brother Matthew for NBC’s “Wide Wide World” program on Sunday afternoon. The idea was to contrast Brother Matthew’s playing with a dixieland band with the Gregorian music sung by the Servite members. This was done and went out over the network, live. Father Hugh described the broadcast as a success, but perhaps the superiors were beginning to wonder about all the worldliness and all the talk from Father Hugh about good public relations. Was this a religious order or was it Madison Avenue?
Whatever was actually said, or implied, brown began to worry about his future with the Servites. Final vows to enter the Servite Order for life were coming up, and Brows was afraid he wouldn’t be accepted. He told Father Hugh of his concern, and when the priest went before his superiors in the monastery at Hillside, a Chicago suburb, he discovered that Brown’s fears were well-founded.
They thought Boyce Brown was an alcoholic and not ready to devote his life to the Servite Order. Sometimes the other members smelled alcohol on his breath. A bottle of booze was found in his room. One Sunday, he left the monastery to play a few hours in a band led by drummer Danny Alvin and returned with the smell of liquor about him. Once, his hands shook when he was helping a priest serve Mass.
Father Hugh pleaded the case. He pointed out that members of the Order were allowed to drink in moderation and that’s all Brown was doing. He said there was no evidence that he ever drank to excess. His hands shook because of nervousness. Father Hugh cited Brown’s value to the Order as a fund-raiser and as an entertainer of the other members (which may have been the wrong approach). Father Hugh said he had never known anyone with a deeper spirituality, with a richer goodness of soul.
The superiors were unmoved. They told Father Hugh he was prejudiced in favor of Brown because they were friends, they played jazz together and Father Hugh loved jazz. There was every indication they would not accept Boyce Brown when he came up for consideration. Father Hugh’s grand public relations gambit — a Brother who played jazz — had backfired.
But Brown never came up for consideration. A few days before the day he was to face the superiors, he helped serve a meal at the monastery, then sat down to eat. But instead of eating, he got back up and went to his room. He took off his robe and folded it neatly. Then he lay down on his bed. A few minutes later, a painter working in the next room heard an unearthly, terrible moan. He called a priest.
Boyce Brown was dead. It was Jan. 30, 1959 — two months and 16 days before his 39th birthday and two years and 10 months after the Brother Matthew record was made.
“God spared him from possible being rejected,” Father Hugh said.
Father Hugh’s feelings about Boyce Brown were profound. “He was without a doubt one of the most genuinely religious-minded persons I have ever met. In the sense that he had an intuitive awareness of things that even many priests, many theologians, never grasp. He said he saw music in colors — he heard chord changes, but he saw them, too. Some sounds were a rich purple or a deep blue. I checked with a psychologist and he said that some artists do that; their senses coordinate. It’s an overlapping of senses.”
In the aftermath of Brown’s departure, Columbia Pictures called Father Hugh to talk about making a movie of Brown’s life, with Father Hugh as technical adviser. He was, of course, enthusiastic and the idea went as far as a scriptwriter coming to interview Father Hugh in depth. Then he told the monastery superiors about it. The rejection was flat and unequivocal; the lives of the seminarians would be disrupted by movie people wandering around and climbing all over the monastery. The project was called off.
By the way, Father Hugh had envisioned Anthony Perkins in the role.
Note: I’m very grateful to Jim Denham of SHIRAZ SOCIALIST (http://www.shirazsocialist.wordpress.com.) for uncovering a copy of this truly detailed article. Hal Willard died not long ago, so I can’t thank him in person, but his research into Boyce’s life and his conversations with Father Hugh Calkins were invaluable. A long and beautiful overview of Boyce’s life and recordings can be found in Richard M. Sudhalter’s LOST CHORDS, with comments from Dave Dexter, Jimmy McPartland, George Avakian, and others — including excerpts from Boyce’s poetry and a letter he wrote to that “bible of jazz,” Down Beat . . . where he had won the 1940 poll for alto saxophone.