Tag Archives: fashion

ON MATTERS OF TASTE, HERSCHEL EVANS HAD DEFINITE VIEWS

HERSCHEL FREDDIE 1937

A newly discovered photograph, circa 1937, of Freddie Green and Herschel Evans, thanks to Christopher Tyle from here.

Herschel “Tex” Evans, born in Denton, Texas, did not live to see his thirtieth birthday.  We are fortunate that he was a member of the very popular Count Basie band of 1937-39, thus there are Decca studio recordings and airshots, and that John Hammond set up many small-band record dates for Basie sidemen.  One can easily hear Herschel’s features with the band — BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL and DOGGIN’ AROUND — but some of the small-group recordings are not as often heard.  A sample below.

Here he is with a Harry James small group (among others, Vernon Brown, Jess Stacy, Walter Page, Jo Jones) for ONE O’CLOCK JUMP:

Mildred Bailey with Buck Clayton, Edmond Hall, Jimmy Sherman, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, IF YOU EVER SHOULD LEAVE:

from the same session, IT’S THE NATURAL THING TO DO:

And HEAVEN HELP THIS HEART OF MINE:

from a Harry James date, I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I? with a sweet vocal by Helen Humes:

Herschel has been overshadowed by Lester Young, and has been seen by many as the artistically conservative foil to Lester’s amazing inventions — but one hears in Herschel something lasting, a deep, leisurely, soulful romanticism.  In sixteen bars at a slow or medium tempo, he emerges as a leisurely explorer of sound and timbre, a man sending romantic love through his tenor saxophone. Listening to Herschel is rather like having a big woolly coat thrown around one’s shoulders on a cold night, his sound is so embracing and so warm.

So we might encapsulate Herschel as a young man who died far too soon and as a great Romantic.

But he was also remembered by his colleagues as a serious discerning person, someone with strong opinions and positions, fiercely defended positions.  The excerpts below come from the delightful book BUCK CLAYTON’S JAZZ WORLD (Oxford University Press, 1987, pp. 111, 108):

Herschel Evans was one of the neatest dressers I had ever known and would always take some time to dress. Tex was so immaculate that he wouldn’t go out of his room until everything, and I mean everything, was just right.  He looked more like a very handsome schoolteacher or a lawyer than a jazz musician.  He was very popular with the ladies and didn’t either smoke or drink.  I should say that he was popular with most ladies, because I can’t say that Billie  Holiday was in the same category. From the very first time they laid eyes on each other there was a deep dislike for each other. Neither had done anything to the other, they just couldn’t stand each other and that was the only reason. Sometimes, when Herschel wouldn’t even be aware of Billie looking at him, she would say, “Look at that MF, I can’t stand him.  Look at him, standing back on his legs and sucking his teeth.  He thinks he’s cute.”  And Herschel would do the same thing when Billie wasn’t looking.  He’d say, “Look at that old bitch.  Who the hell does she think she is?” In other words they got along like a cat and a dog, natural enemies if there ever were any (111).

. . . shortly after Basie had arrived in New York and we didn’t know anybody, we were invited by John Hammond to attend a big jam session where Chick Webb was going to play.  Duke Ellington was going to be there with his band, Eddie Condon was going to be there with all his dixieland guys and a lot of other musicians who lived in New York.  Basie accepted the invitation and we all went to this big bash downtown somewhere in New York on the 16th floor.  I don’t remember the address nor the building but there were many, many people there to dig these three big bands and all the other cats.  It was there that I first saw Stanley Dance, who had just been in New York a short while from England; he hadn’t yet married Helen Oakley, who was then very prominent in jazz circles. We arrived at the building where the jam session was being held and went downstairs to listen to whoever was playing at the time and before we were to play.  I think Duke was playing.

After digging the Duke for a few minutes I noticed that I had forgotten my little bottle of trumpet-valve oil which I needed, so I went back to the dressing room to get it.  While I was looking for it in my trumpet case Herschel Evans came in and there were only the two of us in the room.  I don’t know why he came in but a few minutes later, after we had talked about the  guys jamming downstairs, he noticed Walter Page’s sousaphone mouthpiece laying on a table, where I guess Page had left it before he went downstairs.  “Well look here,” said Herschel when he saw Page’s piece, “I won’t be hearing that damned sousaphone anymore.” Herschel hated it when Page would play the sousaphone sometimes in our arrangements.  So he goes over to the table, picked up Page’s mouthpiece, went over to the window and threw it out.  Out the window from sixteen stories up.  Then he looked at me and said, “Don’t tell anybody.”

I said, “Hell, it’s none of my business.  Why should I say anything about it?” Then he went to where Freddie Green’s pork-pie hat was hanging along with Freddie’s coat.  He walked over to the window again and threw it out of the window too.  Then he went back downstairs to the big session.  When it was all over and we went upstairs to put our instruments away Page was fuming about not finding his mouthpiece and Freddie couldn’t find his pork-pie hat. Herschel hated pork-pie hats too.  So they both just had to come back to the hotel without the mouthpiece and the hat.  I don’t think they ever knew what happened.  I know I never told them. Herschel just went in and acted like he didn’t know from nothing (108).

Exhibit A:

sousaphone mouthpiece

and Exhibit B (although the more characteristic hat seems to have been black):

 

porkpie hat

Now, this narrative is not to be construed as JAZZ LIVES’ endorsement of such capricious behavior.  Theft of property is a serious offense.  However, there were no police reports of any innocent passers-by below suffering a concussion because of a sousaphone mouthpiece dropped from sixteen floors up (perhaps a calculation for a swing Galileo?) and perhaps someone with less exalted fashion standards than Herschel’s took the pork-pie hat as a stylish gift from Heaven.

Some may see Herschel’s behavior as deplorable, and I wonder what would have happened had he time-travelled to my apartment and opened my clothes closet: what would have remained on my return?  (I don’t have any pork-pie hats, but I surmise there is a goodly assortment that would offend his sensibilities.)

However, Freddie Green kept the Basie band afloat long after this mysterious incident, and if he felt a deep wound he never told anyone.  (There is a new biography of him coming out soon; I will immediately check to see “Evans, Herschel,” in the index.)

And think — if you can — of the Basie rhythm section anchored not by string bass but by sousaphone.  The mind reels.

I like people who not only state their principles but who put them into action.  So I miss Herschel Evans, singular musician and man of definite tastes.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN JAZZ WAS FASHIONABLE

This grainy newspaper ad for Adam Hats shows the Benny Goodman Sextet of 1941, with Davey Tough nearly dwarfed by his hat, Charlie Christian looking somewhat startled by his.  I presume that is Johnny Guarneri in the back left corner, bassist Artie Bernstein next to Charlie, and who could mistake Cootie Williams — with or without a blazing necktie — and Georgie Auld for anyone else?  Benny looks comfortable with his hat: more power to him. 

I include this advertisement here because jazz musicians were usually trend-setters in fashion, and because it summons up a time when they were also iconic figures: WEAR THE HAT THAT DAVE TOUGH WEARS would be good enough for me, then or now.

The photo is taken from Leo Valdes’s encyclopedic Charlie Christian website, SOLO FLIGHT, http://home.elp.rr.com/valdes/index.html — hugely diverting and informative even if you don’t play the guitar or have no intention of wearing a fedora.

BOBBY HACKETT AND JACK TEAGARDEN

I will have more to say about Hackett and Teagarden in the future, but I was just searching through the happy disorder I create around my computer — a heady mix of papers, minidiscs, and compact discs — for something pleasing to listen to.

What I found pleases me so much that I am using my small perch in the Blogosphere to call your attention to it — a Capitol session, recorded on the West Coast, featuring Bobby and Jack with musicians they rarely recorded with — trombonist Abe Lincoln, clarinetist Matty Matlock, drummer Nick Fatool among others. This group made its living in the Hollywood studios and were sometimes brought together as the “Rampart Street Paraders” for Columbia. The under-recorded but always joyous Abe Lincoln, happy and in top form, whoops and shouts on trombone alongside Teagarden, much sleeker by comparison.

When this music came out on vinyl, it was called COAST CONCERT or COAST TO COAST. I got Hackett to autograph my copy, which I now treasure, but that’s another story. Hackett and Teagarden, perhaps drawn together by their love for melody, for immediately recognizable, personal sounds, by their reverent devotion to Louis Armstrong, never played better than when in tandem. Teagarden, who could often return to his one solo — a beautiful creation which he tinkered with for nearly forty years — seemed to be thinking, not remembering, when he stood next to Bobby.

Hackett didn’t need much inspiration: he could create luminous traceries in the sunset sky surrounded by the most dire musicians — but he sounds tremendously inspired here, even for him. How did “little Bobby Hackett,” as Louis called him so affectionately, always find “those pretty notes”? It’s a mystery — but investigating the Why and the How could make for hours of deeply rewarding listening.

Hear what the two horns do on a slow, meditative “I Guess I’ll Have To Change My Plan,” which stands next to any jazz ballad ever recorded. Play it after Bix’s “I’m Comin’ Virginia,” Bird’s “Lover Man,” Hawkins’s “Body and Soul,” and there’s no letdown. It’s so simple, too: Hackett improvises an introduction; Teagarden plays a soulfully embellished chorus; there’s a modulation into a higher key, bringing on Hackett for his chorus, backed by the quietest of simple backgrounds. One more modulation, and Teagarden returns for the song’s final eight bars, with an extended ending which leads into a cadenza. Listen to it for the tonal beauties both men get out of what are really unforgiving lengths of brass tubing, for the humming organ tones of the other horns, for the sympathetic rhythm section — but DO listen to it. And any musicians, here or in Budapest, who pride themselves on what is now called “tradiitional jazz” or even “Dixieland,” should commit this music to memory.

And the photograph at the top of this post? A memorable thing in itself — I find the backs of those youthful heads particularly endearing, and would not crop them out for the world — but it is also a visual reminder that once, Virginia, groups of musicians calling themselves “All-Stars” were being accurate. It’s Town Hall, 1947, with Jack, Dick Cary, Louis, Bobby, Peanuts Hucko, Bob Haggart, and Big Sid. Bless them all.  And — for my most fashiob-conscious readers: catch the sharp two-toned shoes on Louis.  Class will tell!