Tag Archives: Fats Waller

THEIR COMPASS POINTS SOUTH: HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET (BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, MARC CAPARONE, STEVE PIKAL, JOHN OTTO) at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL, July 28, 2019.

Not that I need a reason! But I am posting this today for two: the HCJF version of LULU’S BACK IN TOWN made many people happy, if the statistics are valid proof — here — and today is Brian Holland’s birthday. So we celebrate him and the band!

It intrigues me that so many of the songs that are classics of hot jazz sing the praises of the American South, although many of the African-American musicians went at least partway North as soon as they could, and for good reason. Louis Armstrong really loved his home town, so there was no irony in his singing and playing WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH for forty years; other musicians, however, felt the disconnect keenly — that Fats Waller could record MY WINDOW FACES THE SOUTH but while he was touring that region the hotels and restaurants frequented by the dominant race were closed to him. Alas.

All this is prelude to the Bennie Moten – Thamon Hayes instrumental hit, simply called SOUTH — recorded in 1924 and 1928, and kept in the Victor catalogue into the Fifties. I found out that lyrics — quite pedestrian ones — were added by “Ray Charles,” but if my source is correct and they were written in 1936, that RC is not the famous one. And the lyrics aren’t worth the space here.

My window faces north-west, but I can always make it face the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet. And no, I don’t need more catsup. But thank you. The only thing that troubles me is that I cannot remember the name of this eatery: was it THE FIRE PIT? Oh, well, the music lasts longer than beer does.

May your happiness increase!

IT’S RAINING SWING! (1942)

The news is that I’ve fallen in love with a six-minute collection of vibrations, and my neighbors have not called in the authorities.

 

Yes, there’s surface noise. And two or three speed fluctuations at the start. Be calm. There’s also some of the finest swing imaginable.  If you think, “But I don’t like jazz violin,” or “UMBRELLA MAN is such a dumb tune,” just listen.

In 1942 violin wizard Stuff Smith led a band of Fats Waller alumni — not after Waller’s death, as has been suggested. The band was Herman Autrey, trumpet; Ted McCord, tenor saxophone; Sammy Benskin, piano; Al Casey, guitar; Al Hall, string bass; Slick Jones, drums. This performance is part of a late-August broadcast from the Old Vienna Restaurant in Cincinnati, Ohio, taken off the air by William E. Loeffler. The source of all this joy is an available CD — fancy that! — on violin scholar Anthony Barnett’s AB FABLE label (ABCD 015).

Barnett has released incredibly rare recordings: Ella Fitzgerald in 1937 with a Smith-led big band combining players from his own band, from Chick Webb’s band and Cab Calloway’s.

AND a private jam session with Ray Nance, Ben Webster, Jimmie Blanton, Fred Guy, and Sonny Greer, on which Ben plays clarinet (!).

AND wonderful recordings by Eddie South, Ray Perry, Ginger Smock, and more.

Visit http://abar.net/index.htm to see the CD releases and books. Barnett’s research is deep and impeccable, and the recordings he unearths are incredibly rewarding: this is just an uplifting sample.

I can hear some of you grumbling, “I listen on _______ for free.  CDs are for dinosaurs.”  In the forests, T-Rex is swinging like mad, and those berries are like vintage wine.

This public service announcement is brought to you by an enthralled purchaser.  Now I’m going to play UMBRELLA MAN for perhaps the thirtieth time.  It scrapes the clouds.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Thirty-Four) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

Yes, it’s that time again! — although our secret is that any time is good to hear The EarRegulars.  A wintry Sunday night is what we have, though, and a metaphysical visit to The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, is a warming experience. Let’s drop in for the second part of a session from November 14, 2010, featuring Dan Block, clarinet and alto saxophone; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon Burr, string bass — with a nice theme being (mostly) the music of Irving Berlin.  Tommy Dorsey and Bunny Berigan didn’t make it, but MARIE stands on its own without them:

Always welcome, some 1936 romantic optimism:

A different kind of romantic ardor, courtesy of Fats:

And a delightful visit from Tamar Korn, who sings LAZY RIVER:

Finally, a return to Berlin with Tamar’s THE SONG IS ENDED:

See you next week.  Keep the music playing: when it’s most dark, it sustains us.

May your happiness increase!

“A WONDERFUL WAY TO START THE DAY”

It’s been a long time since I wore shoes that needed to be shined, but changes in fashion are less important than music sweetly offering hope.  This song’s optimistic bounce has always pleased me, so I am pleased to share with you the most current version, by the group calling itself THE BIG FIVE.  And I can now hear the verse, words and music . . . saying that shiny shoes are the key to success.  Were it that easy:

I will also list the credits, because they make me laugh:

The BIG FIVE Robert Young – cornet Robert Young – 1st alto saxophone Robert Young – 2nd alto saxophone Robert Young – tenor saxophone Robert Young – special arrangement Robert Young – just kidding Jeff Hamilton – piano Bill Reinhart – guitar Hal Smith – drums Clint Baker – string bass.

The source of all this pleasure is the Epiphonatic channel on YouTube, full of quiet swinging marvels.  This morning, it had 99 subscribers.  Surely JAZZ LIVES readers can add to that number.

Now, a little history.  Three versions! — by the Rhythmakers, here under Jack Bland’s name, the recording band whose output Philip Larkin and others thought a high point in the art of the last century.  Henry “Red” Allen, trumpet; Tommy Dorsey, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Happy Caldwell, tenor saxophone; Frank Froeba, piano; Eddie Condon, banjo; Jack Bland, guitar; Pops Foster, string bass; Zutty Singleton, drums; Chick Bullock, vocal.  Oct. 8, 1932.  Incidentally, admire Froeba’s playing (he’s gotten slandered because of later pop dross) and do not mock Chick Bullock, the perfect session singer — in tune, delivering melody and lyrics in a clear, friendly voice, which gave listeners the welcoming illusion that they, too, could sing on records:

a different take, where Chick sings “find”:

and a third take, a few seconds shorter since they do not perform the whole closing chorus, but at a less incendiary tempo:

and a duet of Monette Moore and Fats Waller, September 28, 1932 — a test recording that was not issued at the time:

A pity that the record company (I think it was Columbia’s predecessor, the American Record Company, then near bankruptcy) didn’t make a dozen records with Monette Moore, sweetly growling, and Fats Waller, at his relaxed best.

It also occurred to me while tracing this song that it documents a vanished time: when hot jazz and new Broadway songs were in the most effusive gratifying embrace.  That current pop hits could be swung by Pee Wee Russell for records that ordinary people bought . . . now seems a dream.  But I have the BIG FIVE to console me.

May your happiness increase!

“WITH TWO IN ONE SEAT,” or CHASING GLOOM (1936, 2016, 2021)

I am an optimistic person, even through the last ten months and contemplation of the indefinite future, but occasionally darkness creeps in.  For no particular reason, yesterday was one of those days: I knew I had things I should do, but I didn’t quite know what they were, and I was quite sure I didn’t want to do them.

My mood was improved in the evening by a cyber-conversation with the many-talented Laura Windley about the 1936 song — most memorably recorded by Fats Waller, US ON A BUS.  It’s not a monument of pop music: the opening cadence and the title mimic a four-note bus horn, there are many passages of repeated notes, and occasionally the lyrics trap themselves in a fairly unimaginative corner.  But I love it.

And today I listened once again to that recording — what joy! — and did a little research: the song was one of perhaps two dozen composed by Tot Seymour and Vee Lawnhurst (a rarity for that time, two women turning out hit songs) — most of them in the 1935-37 period: ACCENT ON YOUTH, ALIBI BABY, CROSS PATCH, PLEASE KEEP ME IN YOUR DREAMS, THE DAY I LET YOU GET AWAY.  It also gave me an excuse to remember Smith and Dale, with fondness.

Searching YouTube for other recordings of this song, I found three contemporaneous effusions — Tommy Dorsey (vocal by Edythe Wright), Shep Fields (Mary Jane Walsh), and Teddy Stauffer (the inimitable Billy Toffel).  These recordings drew a straight line back to the film IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT — where the “night bus” scene is delightfully part of my cultural memory, and reminded me, once again, that “the Swing Era” wasn’t all Goodman, Basie, and Ellington, and they straightened out something that was always vague in the lyrics: “the passengers make room / whisper ‘Bride and Groom’ . . . but Fats’ recording still wins the prize.

I was ready to post the YouTube version of Fats’ 1936 Victor record with “his Rhythm” (Herman Autrey, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Charlie Turner, and Yank Porter) but an improvisation on it caught my eye — a 2016 video using the Fats recording as soundtrack:

Optimism returned.  No, it nearly blew out the windows, so sweetly.

Here’s what Pell Osborn, who posted the video (and helped create it) wrote:

At the Creative Arts at Park (CAAP) summer program in Brookline, Massachusetts, students in the LineStorm animation classes created this project using the most basic equipment: pens and paper, lightboxes, colored pencils and rubber bands. As with all LineStorm projects, we built our animation the old-fashioned way — drawing by drawing. Ten drawings result in one second of screen time. Every step in hand animation is a deliberate one. What a person animates, what it will look like, how one animates it — these are huge questions that all animators deal with, from the professionals at Pixar to the LineStormers at CAAP, who confronted these issues and worked under tight time constraints. Many thanks to the students for their patience and perseverance. They came up with this rollicking, high-energy vision of “Us on A Bus,” a little-known stride-piano number performed by Thomas “Fats” Waller and his Rhythm. Pell Osborn, supervisor, assembled the more than 1200 individual images which make up the video.

What a great gift.  Thanks to Fats and his men, of course, to Tot and Vee (stage names, if you were wondering), Pell, and the young people with their colored pencils.  To me, you are certified Chasers of Gloom.  “All out, Swing City!” indeed.

May your happiness increase!

 

 

 

May

 

 

HOPEFULLY YOURS: JACOB ZIMMERMAN and STEVE PIKAL (Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 7, 2020)

It’s time for some music both tranquil and energized: an improvised duet on the Andy Razaf – Paul Denniker ‘S’POSIN’, by Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet, and Steve Pikal, string bass, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, on March 7, 2020.  Jacob and Steve were part of the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, musing their way through this 1929 song, associated with Fats Waller.

This interlude feels like a lovely series of inquiries gently tossed back and forth, a conversation floating in mid-air, touching the melody, stating it, then veering into swinging patterns, to return to the melody:

I find it impossible to listen to that performance only once at a sitting.

A few happy digressions about the song.  Although you don’t hear the lyrics, they are charming variations on “I adore you. May I kneel at your shins,” and so on.  I imagine the slightly abashed wooer quietly inhabiting the conditional tense: “Would it be acceptable to you if I told you how entrancing you are, or would you turn my words away?” or the hypothetical, “Suppose I said you are Alpha and Omega, honey lamb? Would you respond positively or negatively?”  We might characterize this lover-to-be as overly timid, but I think such sweet tentativeness is a tender way of avoiding the usual aggressiveness.

I wanted to wait until this section of the blogpost to mention that my favorite full-scale version of this song was the Seger Ellis when-worlds-collide recording on June 24, 1929, for OKeh: Ellis captures eagerness and worried reticence, and he’s accompanied by Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Stan King, Justin Ring, Harry Hoffman, and Mister Strong, formerly known as “Little Louis.”  It’s on YouTube.

Finally, when I Googled “‘S’POSIN’,” this came up:

He’s a Las Vegas attorney, although now his firm is now the Posin Law Group: “Providing personalized and superior representation to the Las Vegas community since 1997 for Family Law, Criminal Law, Personal Injury and Bankruptcy. . . . if you were involved with domestic violence, a car accident, divorce problems, a DUI or any other drug related charges our team of experts will be there to provide support, advice and representation in court. . . . please call our offices at 702-396-8888 and schedule a consultation.”

Now, sing along with me, “‘S’posin’ I should fall upon my face / Would you think that you would take my case?” or your own variation, apologies to Andy Razaf.  Then go back and admire Messrs. Zimmerman and Pikal anew.

May your happiness increase!

ANDY MacDONALD’S “SUITE SOLITUDE”

I first encountered Andy MacDonald on Facebook — a shy but amiable presence who liked my postings.  We had similar tastes, so we actually had a conversation (now, how nineteenth-century is that?).  Jazz guitarist, songwriter, singer — and for once that latter combination of words did not inspire fear.

He shared his new three-song opus, SWEET SOLITUDE, and I liked it very much, so much so that I am encouraging you to take a sniff, or several, at it.

But first.  Andy and “pandemic puppy,” whom he’s named Duke Ellington, the inspiration for one of three parts of the Suite, which veers delightfully from hot small-band swing, to Lang-Venuti frolic and meditation, to a song which I think of as our century’s Tom Lehrer goes to Eddie Condon’s.

But every blog should have a photograph of a cute puppy and his happy owner:

One is not enough:

Here are two videos from the Suite, the first asking the musical question, “Will everything be all right soon?” featuring Andy, guitar; Drew Jurecka, violin:

and “March 13, 2020,” featuring Andy, guitar and voice; Drew Jurecka, violin; Dave Kosmyna, cornet;  Tom Richards, sousaphone and trombone:

I’d asked Andy to write something about himself to introduce himself to the mass of people who hadn’t yet realized what was lacking in their lives, and here’s his verbal opus:

I’m a Canadian guitarist, banjoist, and vocalist playing hot jazz in a cold country. I’m from Toronto, but I decided Toronto wasn’t cold enough so I moved to Montreal in 2015. I’ve played (and taught) jazz in Canada, USA, and Europe and my favourite audience members are swing dancers. Django Reinhardt has always been my greatest influence on the guitar, but recently I’ve been going backwards and getting inspired by the players who influenced Django. Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, Louis Armstrong, and Fats Waller are my new muses.

My musical mission is to write honestly about profound subjects without taking myself too seriously. I feel like Fats Waller and Marty Grosz take a similar approach. Fats wrote sincerely about heavy stuff like depression, heartbreak and loneliness, yet his music sounds lighthearted and whimsical. His tune Draggin’ my Poor Heart Around (recorded March 13, 1931) opens with the line: «Sweet mama, did you ever hear of depression? Well, that’s what you did to my heart, I’m tellin’ ya!» When he starts his piano solo, he declares: «Oh baby, listen to my pleadin’ on the ivories!» My 2019 album Asking For A Friend is a heartbreak album that for me is comedic and upbeat in its tone.

I love drawing inspiration from classic hot jazz recordings to create new works. The balancing act of respecting the tradition while saying something original is a tricky challenge. Luckily, there seems to be a new resurgence of interest in this music so even in Canada, it’s possible to find talented players to help bring the music to life. In the “before times”, I ran a weekly hot jazz jam in a dive bar with cheap whiskey and free pool. I can’t wait to get back there!

About Suite Solitude

Suite Solitude is a collection of three songs brought on by the tragedy of social isolation and the COVID19 pandemic. The original idea for the project was to do a real-time, live recording using state-of-the-art software. Well, the software and internet speeds are still about 5 years away from that being feasible, so we recorded it all one track at a time in this order: 1) guitar & banjo; 2) sousaphone; 3) cornet; 4) violin; 5) trombone; 6) voice. Each time, the latest mixdown would be sent to the next player to record so that there could be at least some social and musical interaction.

I wrote about how much my life has flipped upside down since this pandemic began. I lost all my work as a musician and music therapist so it felt like the rug got pulled from under me in a very sudden way. Although the themes are profound at face value, there’s a good deal of comic relief and lightheartedness to the music. For example, when writing about my new puppy, I sing: «Pandemic puppy will help me see when times get rough, you can just say {RUFF} He’s chasing squirrels, he’s chasing ducks, he gives no [BARK]s

You can purchase the music on Bandcamp for $8CAD: https://andymacdonald.bandcamp.com/album/suite-solitude.

Consider yourself encouraged to do such a thing — I mean purchase the music on Bandcamp.  With or without cute puppy, Mr. MacDonald shows great promise and I would like to see his talents encouraged.

May your happiness increase!

 

SWINGING (WITH AN ALTITUDE): The HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 28, 2019)

No elk in the parking lot and no double rainbows at the 2019 Evergreen Jazz Festival, but the music was full of natural wonders: especially the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, featuring Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet; Steve Pikal, string bass; and, playing clarinet and alto saxophone, John Otto.  Here are three sprightly performances to prove that the altitude helped get people higher rather than tiring them out.

A positively jaunty WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

A key-changing romp through THREE LITTLE WORDS:

Fats Waller’s composed-in-the-taxi 0pus of 1929, MINOR DRAG:

It will be lovely to hear this band once again in person — someday soon?  And perhaps to make my way to Evergreen, Colorado, for a rewarding summer weekend of inventive hot music.

May your happiness increase!

HOT PIANO AND WELCOME DRUMS, 2019: “GUILLAUME NOUAUX & THE STRIDE PIANO KINGS”

Although the idea of stride piano is that the singular player on the piano bench is able to simulate the depth and textures of a larger ensemble in their solo playing, I recall very clearly that my earliest exposure to stride playing was in hearing duets between piano and drums: James P. Johnson and Eddie Dougherty (and Sidney Catlett’s work with James P. as part of a rhythm section), Donald Lambert and Howard Kadison . . . later, Willie “the Lion” Smith and Jo Jones — and of course, Fats Waller with Al Casey, bass, and drums.  So there is a real tradition, and an intuitive percussionist is a bonus rather than an intrusion.

Guillaume Nouaux is such a player, and his new CD is wonderful.  But you don’t have to take my non-playing word for it: I shared it with Mr. Kadison, the man about whom Donald Lambert said, “That’s my drummer!” and Howard was delighted by it.

“Delight” is appropriate here, because listening again to the CD — once won’t be enough for anyone — I was reminded of one of the stories I’ve probably told too often here, my feeling when Jo Jones came and sat in with Ellis Larkins and Al Hall.  Guillaume is just that kind of player: varied, intuitive, swinging, always making great sounds, adding some flavors that increase our aural joys.  He is a wonderful accompanist — like a great witty conversationalist who always knows the right thing to say, or perhaps a sly supple dance partner — but also a splendid melodic soloist, someone whose terse outings are shapely and welcome.  I can’t emphasize enough the glorious variety of sounds he gets out of his kit, although he’s not fidgety (some drummers won’t stay in one place for more than four bars) so he’s not restricted to one approach.  He can be very gentle, but he can also create great joyous noises.  (Hear his MOP MOP on this disc.) And neither he nor his great collection of pianists is aiming for the consciously archaic: the music on this disc isn’t trying to wear the same trousers it wore in adolescence, if you get the metaphor.

Each of the seven pianists (some very well-known to me, others new marvels) has two selections — loosely speaking, one up and one down — which is to say one a quick-tempoed stride showcase, the other more ruminative, which makes this disc so refreshing.  The songs are HARLEM STRUT / DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM / I WISH I WERE TWINS / WILLOW WEEP FOR ME / RUNNIN’ WILD / JITTERBUG WALTZ / CHEROKEE – SALT PEANUTS / WHY DID YOU TELL ME “I LOVE YOU”? / HANDFUL OF KEYS / OVERNIGHT / MOP MOP (For Big Sid) — Guillaume’s brief solo feature / TEA FOR TWO / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM / THE LADY IS A TRAMP / OVER THE RAINBOW.

Before you read a syllable more: discs and downloads can be obtained through Bandcamp here.  It’s also one of those rare discs — because of its premise (a rainbow of artists) that I play all the way through with pleasure.  And I believe you can hear some of the music for yourself there.  But if you need sonic breakfast-in-bed, here are Guillaume and Louis Mazetier trotting deliciously through DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM:

You can find out more about Guillaume and his imaginative projects here.

I will leave it to you to decide who plays on which track — it would make a very sophisticated Blindfold Test even for those who consider themselves stride experts.

Several other things need to be said.  The recorded sound is lovely (the piano is well-tuned and the balance between piano and drums, ideal).  You might think this is overly finicky of me, but one of my favorite sessions ever is the 1956 PRES AND TEDDY, where — I believe — the piano could have been tuned again before the session: I hear its glassy-tinkly upper registers and wince.  Not so here.

The repertoire is in part familiar, but hooray! no AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, no HONEYSUCKLE ROSE.  And although both stride piano and jazz drumming are, even at slow tempos, displays of athleticism (try tapping your finger for three minutes and keeping steady time), this isn’t a collection of fifteen kinds of Fast and Loud.  Oh, there’s dazzling playing here . . . but there are also caresses and meanders of the best kind.  And each of the pianists brings his own particular approach to the material.  The CD delights me, and I think it will do the same for you.

Fats would have called it “a killer-diller from Manila.”  Don’t be the last one on your block to be grinning.

May your happiness increase!

“TELL ME SOMETHING SWEET!”

The beautiful long run of Victor records Fats Waller made from 1934 to 1942 often simulate a party in three minutes, where everyone is having an unrestrained good time.  The best of them are remarkable energetic fun, and a classic example is THE JOINT IS JUMPIN’.  Here’s a less famous explosion, FLOATIN’ DOWN TO COTTON TOWN, with sound effects as well as extraordinary stride piano from Fats:

Note Fats’ subversion of the minstrel-show question and answer, and his updating of the 1919 song lyrics to “children.”

But Fats could also be tender, quiet, and pensive.  Here is FAIR AND SQUARE, music by Ada Rubin (“Queenie” when she performed with Tempo King for Bluebird Records), lyrics by Andy Razaf:

The first chorus, featuring Fats without the horns, is wonderful dance music; the second chorus, where the horns hum respectfully behind him, has him making his way through the lyrics with only the slightest hint of comedy; the third chorus (only the last sixteen bars) beginning with a hint of rolling bass before the horns come in, is almost as delicate.

And here is one of his most touching performances:

But Fats’ natural exuberance, his true life-force, was joyous.  Trying to restrain it was like telling a puppy not to wag its tail.  So here are two other less-known favorites of mine, not necessarily “great songs,” although SOMETHING TELLS ME is irresistible, but I love the way Fats gently builds from quiet restrained tenderness to real joy.  SOMETHING TELLS ME (Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer) also has the distinction of fine recordings by Louis and Connie Boswell.  Fats’ record starts with Gene Sedric in his best dance-band mode, with occasional celeste interjections, and then hits its swinging stride:

Candidly, WHAT WILL I DO IN THE MORNING? has most of its brilliance in its title.  The A and B sections are fairly thin variations on a repeated pianistic motif — although the bridge is an imaginative change — and the lyrics rely heavily on the end-rhymes.  But listen to how Fats moves gently from what I would call anxiety in swingtime for the first sixteen bars to hilarity, with his quacking repetition of “What!” seven or eight times, which always makes me laugh:

For many, the joyous clamor Fats generates obscures his subtleties, his gentleness and delicacy, as if it had been decided he was Our Jazz Clown.  He could whisper and cajole as well as shout.  I am amazed that no one celebrates him as a memorable singer as well as pianist and composer, creating three-minute dramas that continue to gratify us.  The “Rhythm” records could occasionally seem formulaic, but treasures abound.

May your happiness increase!  

“HONESTLY, I DO”: MUSIC FOR WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 2020

I think that, as a species, we don’t do well with uncertainty.  Is that shadow on the wall a shadow or is it The Wolf coming to get us?  I suggest that music can help us turn on the light and see clearly that The Wolf is only a stuffed toy.  To that end, I offer a soundtrack for this Wednesday, November 4. 2020.  Yes, the lyrics are — if you take them at face value — a fairly predictable 1935 love song, but I encourage you to embellish them in your thoughts, making them as relevant as you can.  The song?  I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES, by Pete Wendling, George Meyer, and Sam M. Lewis.

A rather plain version by Greta Keller, a starting point, verse and chorus:

Ralph Sutton, Ruby Braff, Milt Hinton, Mousie Alexander:

An early recorded version, by the Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra with Bob Crosby:

Marty Grosz, Dick Meldonian, Greg Cohen, 1992:

Our very own EarRegulars in 2010 — Jon-Erik Kellso, Pete Martinez, Matt Munisteri, Greg Cohen:

Wingy Manone, Matty Matlock, Eddie Miller, Gil Bowers, Nappy Lamare, Harry Goodman, Ray Bauduc, 1935:

and the wellspring, the inspiration . . . Fats Waller, Bill Coleman, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Charlie Turner, Harry Dial, 1935:

Love can weave a miracle.  Keep believing.

May your happiness increase!

IRRESISTIBLY SWINGING: THE BROOKS PRUMO ORCHESTRA: “THIS YEAR’S KISSES”

The new CD by the Brooks Prumo Orchestra, THIS YEAR’S KISSES, is wonderfully groovy, rather like the thing you can’t stay away from, Bert Lahr’s single Lay’s potato chip.  (You can look that up on YouTube.  I’ll wait.)  By the way, I loved the BPO’s first CD, PASS THE BOUNCE (2017): read about it here.

Here‘s the Bandcamp link for KISSES, where you can see the personnel, the song titles, hear a sample, download, or purchase this CD.

The description reads: The Brooks Prumo Orchestra was made for dancing. Featuring brand new arrangements of long-lost big band tunes, original compositions, and crowd favorites, the Brooks Prumo Orchestra aims to embody a big band dance orchestra of the Swing era. Filled with world-class musicians, the band will evoke thoughts of Count Basie, Earl Hines, Andy Kirk, and Billie Holiday.

The noble members of the BPO are Alice Spencer, vocals*; Mark Gonzales, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Lauryn Gould, alto saxophone; David Jellema, cornet; Oliver Steck, cornet; Hal Smith, drums; Ryan Gould, string bass; Kris Tokarski,  piano; Brooks Prumo, guitar.

And the delicious repertoire is  CASTLE ROCK / SOMEBODY LOVES ME* / ‘T’AIN’T LIKE THAT / PEEK-A-BOO / THIS YEAR’S KISSES* / JO-JO / DON’T BE THAT WAY / ARMFUL O’ SWEETNESS* / OUT OF NOWHERE / THE THEME / WHAT’S YOUR NAME?* / BLUE LESTER / BROADWAY / I’M THRU WITH LOVE* / JEEP’S BLUES.

Those who know will see splendid associations: Al Sears, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Count Basie, Karl George, Billie Holiday, Joe Bushkin, Jo Jones, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Alex Hill, Fats Waller, Henry “Red” Allen, Dexter Gordon, Nat Cole.

Happily, the CD is very forgiving of the dance-challenged: it allows me to sit in my chair, listen, and beam.  And to give you an idea of the intense attraction I had for this CD on my first hearing I thought, “I want this CD!” and then calmed down enough to think, “You already have it.”

Listening to it again and again, I envisioned the eleven members of this orchestra as a kind of M.C. Escher drawing, people swimming blissfully in two divergent streams at once.  One could be labeled NOW, which means that the musicians here sound like themselves — and their voices are so individualistic — but they are also having a high old time splashing around in THEN, so that many of the performances have a tender connection to past recorded performances.  But there is no conscious attempt (use your Steve Martin voice) to say, “Hey! Let’s Get OLD!” — no archival stiffness.  And the familiar material, say SOMEBODY, BROADWAY, NOWHERE, is delightfully enlivened by the band’s passionate immersion in not only the notes but the emotions.

The rhythm section is fine-tuned, flexible and resourceful, four individuals playing as one; the solos are memorable; the ensemble work is both loose and graciously cohesive.  This is a band, and even if there isn’t the official BPO band bus for the one-nighters, you can hear their pleasure in working together, easy and intense.

And a few lines, once again, for the miracle of nature known as Alice Spencer, who takes familiar music and makes it fresh, who makes songs associated with Billie Holiday for decades into her own without warping their intent, who can be perky or melancholy with utter conviction.  She is full of surprises — many singers telegraph what they are going to do in the next four bars, but she doesn’t — although her surprises always seem like the right thing once they have landed.  I won’t compare her to other singers: rather, she has an aura like a great film actress, comfortable in many roles.  Think Joan Blondell or Jean Arthur, and you have some idea of her great personal appeal.

This CD is a great gift.  It’s music for dancers, music for those of us who know the originals, music for people who need joy in their lives.  THIS YEAR’S KISSES is like sunshine breaking through: a consistent delight, much appreciated.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to listen to it again.

May your happiness increase!

WINGSTON PLAYS THE HITS, JULY 26, 1954

Wingy Manone isn’t well-remembered today, but he was a singular personality.  There were more powerful trumpet players, more polished singers, more original comedians, but the combination of his talents added up to an energetic joy-maker.

For those who have never heard him, he sits somewhere between Louis and Fats as a swinging jester.  His great heyday was the Swing Era, when he took little bands into the studio for OKeh, Brunswick, Bluebird, and smaller labels, and created jam-session recordings often based on frankly ephemeral popular songs.  From this distance, some of his gaiety seems a little amateurish, reminiscent of the relative who asks to sing a slightly off-color parody with the wedding band, but Wingy always hired the best musicians so that his records always have gratifying interludes.  I always looked forward to what he would do with sentimental or formulaic hits, so when this four-song “extended play” disc appeared on eBay, I bought it to share with you.

Recorded in New York, July 26, 1954, it presents Wingy with Lou McGarity, trombone; Hank D’Amico, clarinet; Charlie Queener, piano; Milt Hinton, string bass; Cliff Leeman, drums.  One traditional jazz standard, one Wingy original, one current film hit, and (of course) one remake of his hit, ISLE OF CAPRI.  (I wonder if this was a George Avakian experiment.)  I doubt that these performances got a great deal of radio airplay, and Columbia didn’t record more music to make a full-length 10″ or 12″ record, but the music is jovial, swinging, and rare.

Wingy’s pronunciation of “coins” and his spoken interlude are both priceless.

PAWNSHOP DOOR is a fast blues — with the drama of Wingy’s band being so hot they lose the job — and ST. JAMES INFIRMARY is one of the better versions of that overdone song. 

On all four tracks, there’s spectacular playing from Leeman and McGarity, as well as some classic Fifties echo in the recording studio, adding up to ten minutes of jivey fun.

May your happiness increase!

SIX MINUTES OF SWING MYSTERY (May 25, 1939)

We like to think that everything can be known, and in many cases answers can be found by the diligent, but I am sharing a small mystery with my readers, for their pleasure and perhaps our mutual enlightenment.

Certain jazz soloists are immediately recognizable: you can make your own list.  Other superb players are less familiar because of the paucity of evidence (we know what Charlie Shavers sounds like because of his distinctive approach, but we also have hours of his recorded work to compare any unidentified playing against.)  I think also of Coleman Hawkins’ comment about being on the road: that you could go to some small town and there would be a tenor player who no one ever heard of who would be as good as the famous ones.

When I saw this record — rather obscure and rare — I wanted it, for those reasons.  Also because Edgar Sampson, saxophonist, composer, arranger, never produced any music that was less than superb.  I knew one song — DON’T TRY YOUR JIVE ON ME — because of Fats Waller’s UK recording.  When I played it, though, I was impressed and mystified.  A great trumpet solo on JIVE, and rippling swing piano on both sides.

I have some vanity about knowing the great soloists of the period, and it piqued me that I couldn’t identify anyone except Sampson.  But I have friends who are also experts, and I tried their knowledge as well — let me list their names in alphabetical order: Marc Caparone, Menno Daams, Jan Evensmo, Jon-Erik Kellso, Bent Persson, Rob Rothberg, Bo Scherman — but no definitive answers.

About The Three Swingsters, I can only surmise that they were a vocal group with some regional fame — I think Pennsylvania — but I do not know whether the record was made to showcase them or not.

Before we go deeper, here is the mysterious listing in Tom Lord’s online discography:

Edgar Sampson And His Orchestra : 2 tp, tb, Edgar Sampson (as) unknown p, b and d, The Three Swingsters (vcl-1)
New York, May 25, 1939
WM1023-A Don’t try your jive on me (1) Voc 4942
WM1024-A Pick your own lick (1) –
WM1025-A Sly mongoose (1) (unissued)

My experts (I apologize if that seems too possessive) came up with names of who the trumpet soloist couldn’t be, and proposed Dick Vance or Benny Carter as the trumpeter, and Tommy Fulford as the pianist, with some thoughts of perhaps Eddie Heywood or Kenny Kersey.  Vance and Fulford were stalwarts of the Chick Webb band — this disc was recorded very late in Chick’s life — and at that time Sampson was the band’s musical director.  I have heard Fulford with Chick’s “Little Chicks,” and he is plausible — fleet and swinging.

On first hearing, I thought the pianist was Billy Kyle, but the player does not reach for Kyle’s beloved downward run, and Billy recorded that day with Jack Sneed for Decca (of course he could have made two sessions in one day). The connection to Master Records suggests the salutary influence of Helen Oakley. And PICK YOUR OWN LICK (written by “newcomers to songdom” Roy Jacobs and Gene de Paul, according to Billboard) was published by Mills Music.  de Paul went on to write DON’T TAKE YOUR LOVE FROM ME and I’LL REMEMBER APRIL, but LICK is not his finest hour.  Or three minutes.

Here’s DON’T TRY YOUR JIVE ON ME:

About PICK YOUR OWN LICK: I try never to write these words, but what a terrible idea — an attempt to have a pop hit by cannibalizing bits of other pop hits. But the band sounds good, even while the lyrics pummel us with obvious hopeful thefts.

Your thoughts?

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Seventeen) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

Something you ought to Ear.

Wow.  It’s Sunday again.  How the days go by so quickly when it feels as if more than half of our former lives have been put in the freezer . . . a puzzlement, as the King said.  Here ‘s the record of last week’s pilgrimage to the Soho Shrine, The Ear Inn on 326 Spring Street.

And now, we spin the dial on the cyber-roulette wheel and take you back to May 16, 2010, when the EarRegulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Greg Cohen, string bass.

Let’s start with a pretty song, one that could be our national anthem these days, I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES:

Now, the fable of a remarkable Texan, I’M A DING DONG DADDY FROM DUMAS:

DING DONG DADDY (concluded):

I looked up Dumas, Texas, and it’s just under 1750 miles from New York, a straight shot of 26 hours in the car.  All things are possible for those who believe:

WILLIE THE WEEPER had a wonderful dream.  No words, but join him:

Care to Stomp?  Here’s MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, with Dan Block, tenor, sitting in, a performance that astonishes me ten years later:

For the final song of this offering, I’M CONFESSIN’, Dan sat out, and they were joined by Alex Norris, trumpet, from Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks:

Let us all believe in Miracles.  Honestly, we should.

May your happiness increase!

“ON ROLLER SKATES,” or “SOMEBODY STOLE MY FATS!” (an eBay Vignette)

When I weary of the usual pursuits, I visit eBay to see what’s floating around at enticing prices.  Sometimes it’s a CD or a 78, a book, or even a teapot.  (I’ve bought most of my wardrobe there in the past few years, but for obvious reasons the need to Dress for Success has quieted down.)

Late Tuesday, I saw this gem, upside-down in the original posting (I’ve rotated it to show off the signature):

I have seen enough carefully ornate signatures by Fats to feel this one is authentic, and, better yet, it’s from real life: when the star is leaning against the wall and people ask for autographs, as opposed to what one might do sitting at a desk.  Incidentally, too-neat signatures are usually suspect, especially if the star’s handwriting was not all that tidy.

Feeling artifact-lust and isolation boredom, I noticed that the bid was low — around $28 — and offered a more substantial bid, and sat back.  I’ve seen autographs and inscriptions that I felt passionately I had to have, but I was easy about this one.

Today, engrossed in chores, I forgot to obsess over the bidding when the auction ended, and got a notification from eBay that someone had plunged more money than I had offered, which suited me fine.  I lost this sacred piece of paper, but I have an extra $107.51, a relief.

And at the bottom of the eBay notification, as if to bring me back to commerce, this delicacy was for sale:

Happily, I didn’t need this: I have a Basie signature, and around 1973 I met Buck Clayton and he graciously autographed a record he was on.  Both signatures look genuine.  Basie had perfected his in one swoop, and it is a little raggedy, which suggests on-the-spot.  I’d never seen Buck use a fountain pen, nor write in green, nor offer his own trumpet logo-ornament.  But as remarkable as this holy relic is, all I need is a photograph to show you.

Maestro, please?  And bring along Mr. Holmes, if you will:

That piece of paper is gone, but no one can steal my Waller-joys.

A postscript, as of August 15.  A dear Swiss collector-friend pointed out very kindly (and that makes a difference, you Corrections Officers out there!) that the Waller signature could not in any way be connected to Fats, because the paper on which it was written was from a Down Beat 78 rpm record sleeve, and that the D.B. label started in 1947, four years after Fats left us.  So I feel a twinge of wicked pleasure in being saved from buying something fake presented as real.  It pays to have good friends!

May your happiness increase!

YOU’LL WANT TO TAKE THEM HOME: THE OXBLOOD MELODIANS

Those who have visited my apartment would agree that it resembles as a homemade record store-yard sale.  Or a spousal nightmare.  Over there, a George Barnes lp, on that table an Eddie Miller cassette; on top of some papers, a Jimmie Rowles CD, and then there are the 78s — which, I say proudly, are in alphabetical order.  So I don’t need any more music right away.

Sorry, I was proven wrong this morning when I had a chance to hear and purchase the Oxblood Melodians’ debut CD on Bandcamp.  Listen to the first track here while you read.

I had heard of the band — rather like one of those listings in Brian Rust that you know were once recorded (Adrian Rollini, Teddy Bunn, and Frank Froeba, 1930) but you have never heard — I knew some of the musicians, but did not know that they would appear, fully-feathered, to me, this Friday, August 7.  More about that date shortly.

For now, some enticing data.  Or you can read it all for yourself here if you are a proud independent cuss who don’t take help from nobody.

We are excited to present The Oxblood Melodians. This self-titled album is the collaboration of Jonathan Doyle & David Jellema, and features many of our favorite Austinites and honorary Austinites. Our goal was to create an ensemble that evokes the New York and Chicago small groups of the mid-late 1920s, with bass saxophone in the bass role and embracing both jazz and blues traditions. The Oxblood Melodians are named in part after the oxblood lilies that grace Austin and central Texas yards in the fall (including our own). Recorded at the legendary “Dandyville” by Alex Hall in 2014, these sides have been simmering and gestating, waiting for just the right moment to be released into the world. That time is finally upon us!

Day 1 :: 4,5,6,7,10,12,14
Alice Spencer—vocals 6 & 14
David Jellema—cornet &/or clarinet
Lyon Graulty—clarinet &/or tenor saxophone
Mark Gonzales—trombone (except 7)
Westen Borghesi—tenor banjo (+vocal on 12)
Jonathan Doyle—bass saxophone
Hal Smith—drum set 4,6,12,14

Day 2 :: 1,2,3,8,9,11,13
Alice Spencer—vocals 1,2,9
Austin Smith—violin
David Jellema—cornet &/or clarinet
Lyon Graulty—clarinet &/or tenor saxophone
J.D. Pendley—guitar & tenor banjo
Jonathan Doyle—bass saxophone (+contra-alto clarinet 3 only)

1. Louis-I-An-Ia (Day 2) / (Joe Darensbourg) dir. D.Jellema

2. Oh Daddy Blues / (William Russell / Ed Herbert) arr. D.Jellema, J.D.Pendley

3. Dardanella / (Fred Fisher / Felix Bernard / Johnny S. Black) arr. D.Jellema

4. Goose Pimples / (Jo Trent / Fletcher Henderson) adpt. J.Doyle

5. New Orleans Shuffle / (Bill Whitmore) dir. D.Jellema

6. Of All the Wrongs You’ve Done to Me / (Lew Payton / Chris Smith / Edgar Dowell) dir. D.Jellema

7. Farewell Blues / (Paul Mares / Leon Roppolo / Elmer Schoebel) dir. D.Jellema

8. Cryin’ All Day / (Frank Trumbauer / Chauncey Morehouse) arr. D.Jellema

9. Don’t Give All the Lard Away / (Lockwood Lewis / Henry Clifford) adpt. J.Doyle

10. Feel the River Move / (David Jellema / Rod Jellema) dir. D.Jellema

11. Old Stack O’Lee Blues / (Sidney Bechet) dir. D.Jellema

12. Love Affairs / (Al Dubin / J. Russel Robinson) adpt. J.Doyle

13. Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams / (Ted Koehler / Billy Moll / Harry Barris) dir. D.Jellema

14. Louis-I-An-Ia (Day 1) / (Joe Darensbourg) dir. D.Jellema

Some of the repertoire will point us to “the dear boy” from Davenport, but this is both a humble tribute to him and an understanding that our heroes prize individuality the most.  So this isn’t a bunch of kids dressing up for Halloween: “I want be Bessie this year!  How come you always get to be Bessie?” “Your brother gets to be Larry Binyon this year.  I promised him.”  “Let us be.  Mom and I are going as Fats Waller.”  

Rather, what you will hear is a group of dear musical friends, exuberant and precise, who know the history and have their own songs to sing.  Too many delights to elucidate here: I’d rather you head over to Bandcamp directly.  Why the rush? Because today Bandcamp gives all the proceeds to the artists and takes no fees.  So if you haven’t been able to hear some live jazz, hear this lively version: it will make you glad.  

“Believe me,” as Alice tells us at the end of OH DADDY BLUES.

May your happiness increase!

“AT LEAST A SUGGESTION OF MELODY”: DON EWELL and DICK WELLSTOOD (Manassas Jazz Festival, December 3, 1978 and December 1, 1979)

When Don Ewell came to New York in 1981 to play at Hanratty’s, the New York Times jazz critic John S. Wilson did a piece heralding Ewell’s “classical piano,” and Don had this to say: “A lot of jazz pianists look down on the old classic way of playing.  I’m not a reactionary, but I don’t want to go too far out on a limb. I like the trunk of the tree. Jazz is a people’s music and it should have at least a suggestion of melody.

You can always hear Ewell’s love of melody in his playing; he never treats any composition he is improvising on as a collection of chord changes, which is one of the most beautiful aspects of his playing.  His touch, his moderate tempos, giving each performance the feeling of a graceful steadiness, also are so rewarding.

Twice at the Manassas Jazz Festival, in 1979 and 1981, Don and Dick Wellstood — who admired each other greatly — had the chance, however briefly, to share a stage.

Because of their mutual respect, it wasn’t an exhibition: they were mature artists who knew that Faster and Louder have their place, but also have their limits.  The video I will present here begins with three solo performances of “ragtime,” loosely defined, by Dick, and then goes a year forward into four duet performances.  Yes, both the MC and the audience are slightly intrusive, and the pianos are not perfect, but I like to imagine that the slight informality made Don and Dick more at ease.  The music is peerless, and the video presents a rare summit meeting.  I thank our benefactor, Joe Shepherd, one of the music’s secular angels, for making it possible for me to share this with you.

Dick Wellstood, solo piano, December 3, 1978: FIG LEAF RAG / CAPRICE RAG / RUSSIAN RAG // Wellstood and Don Ewell, piano, December 1, 1979: ROSETTA (incomplete) / ROSETTA / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ / HONEYSUCKLE ROSE / HANDFUL OF KEYS //

When I was doing research for this post, I found I had offered one song from the Ewell-Wellstood duets of 1981, I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU — again, thanks to Joe —  here it is again.  I wonder if more video of that session (six songs made it to record) exists.

Celestial dance music.

May your happiness increase!

TWO HOT DANCES and AN IMPROVISED MEDITATION: the HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL: BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, STEVE PIKAL, JOHN OTTO, MARC CAPARONE (July 28-29, 2019)

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Here is some wonderful music from one of my favorite bands, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, appearing at the Evergreen Jazz Festival (that’s Evergreen, Colorado) in July 2019.  For this weekend, the quintet was Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet; John Otto, clarinet and alto saxophone; Steve Pikal, string bass.

I might be paraphrasing Yogi Berra, but this piece of music is so famous that no one every plays it anymore.  I’m referring to the 1923 CHARLESTON, words and music by Cecil Mack and Jimmy Johnson, as noted below:

In my childhood, when several television shows purported to reproduce the ambiance and music of “The Roaring Twenties,” one by that title starring Dorothy Provine, CHARLESTON was played and sung often.  But now, I can’t remember the last time I heard a jazz band play or sing it.  (Note: I know there are wonderful recordings, and as I write this, the Original Boulevardiers of Bucharest are driving audiences wild with their rendition, but you don’t need to write in.)  Here’s the HCJQ’s frisky version:

and a cool tender IMPROVISATION on a theme recorded but not composed by Fats Waller — the performers are John Otto and Steve Pikal:

Another HOT DANCE (as it would say on the record label), KRAZY KAPERS, perhaps harking back to the comic strip? — variations on the theme of DIGA DIGA DOO:

This band knocks me out, song after song.  I saw them most recently at the Jazz Bash by the Bay . . . and you will get to see and hear them also, more . . . .

May your happiness increase!

“SOLID, GATE!”: THE ONYX TRIO: TEDDY BUNN, LEO WATSON, BOBBY HENDERSON (Saturday Night Swing Club, July 15, 1937).

Bobby Henderson, as “Jody Bolden,” performing in Albany, New York.

The hell with time-travel.  Before you long to go back to 1937, remember lynching, polio, breadlines, dictatorships.  Don’t touch that dial.  But a short jaunt back into audible time, not heard before, cannot wound.  This five-minute radio airshot from the SATURDAY NIGHT SWING CLUB (on the Columbia Broadcasting System) of July 15, 1937, is a delightful rebuke to those who feel “all the good stuff has been found and heard already.”  Nay nay, indeed.

To me, and to many of  you, this will be an astonishing rarity: few knew it existed.  The earnest-comic-attempting-to-be-hep announcer (possibly chained to his script?) is Paul Douglas. The musicians are guitarist Teddy Bunn, scat-singing wizard Leo Watson, also playing drums, and pianist Bobby Henderson.

This is the only recording of Henderson in his prime; he was at one time the young Billie Holiday’s accompanist, and in 1932 he recorded some sides which were never released with Martha Raye and Lonnie Johnson — but he would have to wait until the middle Fifties to make recordings, three on the Vanguard label — one Verve side from a Newport Jazz Festival appearance in 1957 — then a decade later for Hank O’Neal, when Henderson had become ill.

Here he displays great swing mastery.

Teddy and Leo are deliciously unique: note Leo’s making “CBS” and “Columbia” part of his vocal, and Bunn is a complete rhythm CPR in himself.  The fidelity is narrow but clear.  Perhaps this is how it sounded on AM radio in mid-July 1937?

Blessings on the creators, and on the savers of their creativity.

May your happiness increase!

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CELEBRATING ADRIAN ROLLINI, THEN AND NOW

Adrian Rollini has been gone from us for nearly sixty-five years, but his imagination, his huge sound, his virtuosity lives on.  He has been celebrated as associate of Bix Beiderbecke, Red Nichols, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, the California Ramblers and their spin-offs, Cliff Edwards, Frank Trumbauer, Annette Hanshaw, Vic Berton, Stan King, Abe Lincoln, Miff Mole, Fred Elizalde, Bert Lown, Tom Clines, Bunny Berigan, Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, Lee Morse, Jack Purvis, Benny Goodman, Ethel Waters, Fats Waller, Gene Krupa, Wingy Manone, Joe Marsala, Pee Wee Russell, and many more; multi-instrumentalist: the premier bass saxophonist, a pianist, drummer, vibraphonist, xylophonist, and master of the goofus and the “hot fountain pen,” with recordings over mearly three decades — 473 sessions, says Tom Lord — to prove his art.

Here, in about six minutes, is Rollini, encapsulated — lyrically on vibraphone for HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, then playing TAP ROOM SWING (really THE FARMER IN THE DELL with a domino on) alongside Berigan, Teddy Wilson, and Babe Russin — for the Saturday Night Swing Club, with Paul Douglas the announcer. Thanks to Nick Dellow for this two-sided gem:

and later on, the vibraphone-guitar-trio:

I love the song — as well as the weight and drive Rollini gives this 1933 ensemble — to say nothing of Red McKenzie, Berigan, and Pee Wee Russell:

and the very hot performance of NOBODY’S SWEETHEART by Fred Elizalde:

Rollini died on May 15, 1956, not yet 53, so by most perspectives he is a historical figure, outlived by many of his contemporaries (Nichols, Mole, Hackett, Buddy Rich come to mind).  He made no recordings after December 1947.  But recently, several exciting fully-realized projects have made him so much more than a fabled name on record labels and in discographies.

The first Rollini exaltation is a CD, TAP ROOM SWING, by the delightful multi-instrumentalist Attila Korb, “and his Rollini Project,” recorded in 2015 with a memorable cast of individualists getting a full orchestral sound from three horns and two rhythm players.

Attila plays bass saxophone, melodica, and sings beautifully on BLUE RIVER and SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL,  and is responsible for the magical arrangements; Malo Mazurie plays trumpet and cornet; David Lukacs, clarinet and tenor; Harry Kanters, piano; Felix Hunot, guitar and banjo.  Those names should be familiar to people wise to “old time modern,” for Felix and Malo are 2/3 of Three Blind Mice, and with Joep Lumeij replacing Harry, it is David Lukacs’s marvelous DREAM CITY band.  The selections are drawn from various facets of Rollini’s bass saxophone career: SOMEBODY LOVES ME / SUGAR / THREE BLIND MICE / BLUE RIVER / BUGLE CALL RAG / DIXIE / SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL / PE O’MY HEART / TAP ROOM SWING / I LEFT MY SUGAR STANDING IN THE RAIN / SWING LOW / EMBRACEABLE YOU (the last a gorgeous bonus track, a duet for Attila and Felix that is very tender).  The performances follow the outlines of the famous recordings, but the solos are lively, and the whole enterprise feels jaunty, nothing at all like the Museum of Shellac.  You can buy the CD or download the music here, and follow the band on their Facebook page.

Here’s evidence of how this compact orchestra is both immensely respectful of the originals but — in the truest homage to the innovators — free to be themselves.

MY PRETTY GIRL (2018), where the Project foursome becomes the whole Goldkette Orchestra, live, no less:

THREE BLIND MICE, PEG O’MY HEART, SOMEBODY LOVES ME, BLUE RIVER (2016), showing how inventive the quintet is:

CLARINET MARMALADE, LULU’S BACK IN TOWN, BLUE RIVER, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL — with a caffeinated-Bach interlude, not to be missed (2017):

I would chase this band all over Europe if circumstances were different, but they already have expert videography.  And at the end of this post I will share their most recent delightful episode.

But first, reading matter of the finest kind.  For a number of years now, there has been excited whispering, “How soon will the Rollini book come out?”  We knew that its author, Ate van Delden, is a scholar rather than an enthusiast or a mere compiler of facts we already know.  ADRIAN ROLLINI: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF A JAZZ RAMBLER is here, and it’s a model of the genre.  I confess that I am seriously tardy in adding my praise to the chorus, but it’s an example of “Be careful what you wish for.”  I always look for books that will tell me what I didn’t already know, rather than my thinking, “Yes, I read that story here, and this one in another book.”

RAMBLER, to keep it short, has so much new information that it has taxed my five wits to give it a thorough linear reading.  I’ve been picking it up, reading about Rollini’s early life as a piano prodigy (and the piano rolls he cut), his associations with the famous musicians above, his thousands of recordings, and more.  van Delden has investigated the rumors and facts of Rollini’s death, and he has (more valuable to me) portrayed Rollini not only as a brilliant multi-instrumentalist but as a businessman — opening jazz clubs, hiring and firing musicians, looking for financial advantages in expert ways — and we get a sense of Rollini the man through interviews with people who knew him and played with him.

He comes across as a complex figure, and thus, although van Delden does give loving attention to Rollini on record, the book is so much more than an annotated discography.  In its five hundred and more pages, the book is thorough without being tedious or slow-moving, and if a reader comes up with an unanswered Rollini question, I’d be astonished.  The author has a rare generous objectivity: he admires Rollini greatly, but when his and our hero acts unpleasantly or inexplicably, he is ready to say so.  Of course, there are many previously unseen photographs and wonderful bits of relevant paper ephemera.  The book is the result of forty years of research, begun by Tom Faber and carried on into 2020, and it would satisfy the most demonically attentive Rollini scholar. And if that should suggest that its audience is narrow, I would assign it to students of social and cultural history: there’s much to be learned here (the intersections of art, race, economics, and entertainment in the last century) even for people who will never play the hot fountain pen.

And here’s something completely up-to-date — a social-distancing Rollini Project video that is characteristically emotionally warm and friendly, the very opposite of distant, his nine-piece rendition of SOMEBODY LOVES ME, which appeared on May 23.  Contemporary jazz, indeed!

How unsubtle should I be?  Buy the CD, buy the book — support the living people who are doing the work of keeping the masters alive in our heads.

May your happiness increase!

BEWARE OF THE WEB, OR KNOW WHO YOU’RE SITTING WITH

I first heard the wonderful singer / guitarist Sylvia Herold in 2019, and her rendition of THERE’S A CABIN IN THE PINES still evokes tears — hear it here.

Sylvia is not only a splendid musician, but she is wisely prescient.  She was advising caution before it was necessary to be so.  Here’s her musical advisory:  pert, hilarious, and swinging.  She writes, “It is extremely silly — my rendition of Fats Waller’s song The Spider and the Fly, which was derived from a famous poem written in 1829 by Mary Howitt. The poem isn’t heard much nowadays but, once, it was recited in many parlors as a cautionary tale about the dangers of yielding to flattering words.”

“Extremely silly” seems just the thing for us: an antidote to the news.  Fly on, Sylvia and the Rhythm Bugs!

You’ll want to learn more about Sylvia, and the place to do it is here.  But first! (as they say) some more music.  Here’s the 1935 WHOSE HONEY ARE YOU (with a mildly entomological connection — dare I say “thread”?):

and Hannah, who seems even more dangerous to some than the Spider:

I found Sylvia’s lovely work quite by accident: you can now have the pleasure of discovering more of it for your day, on many CDs.  Her emotional range is very reassuringly broad, her singing candid and dear.  You can yield to her singing and be uplifted.

May your happiness increase!