Tag Archives: Fats Waller

“BUT, GEE, IT FEELS GOOD”: MORE FROM TAMAR KORN, ROB ADKINS, DAN BLOCK at CASA MEZCAL (May 24, 2015)

The neophyte at a jazz performance asks with the proper mixture of curiosity and awe, “How do they know what they are doing, I mean, without any music? How do they know where they are going?”  Deep questions, and the musicians can answer in terms of experience, craft, practice, the common language.  All true. But I’d suggest it comes down to a combination of courage and faith — faith in what they feel, in the deep listening necessary to make any collaboration work, and the courage to launch oneself into the blue air, with expertise and a delight in risk as equal factors.  How lost can you be with friends to support you when you strike out into the unknown . . . making it known and beautiful?

I think of Emerson’s SELF-RELIANCE embodied over a swinging, melodic four-four heartbeat.  I’ve written here about the music made by Tamar Korn, voice; Dan Block, reeds; Rob Adkins, string bass, on a sunny Sunday afternoon — May 24, 2015.

Here are three more beautifully surprising and satisfying explorations by this trio, where the original melodies and harmonies are never obliterated, but the formal boundaries are delightfully made elastic.  Song becomes speech becomes sound; singing becomes theatre; solo becomes accompaniment; tempo and pitch are flexible and meant to be so. Beautiful sounds become the reason these there are where they are, and we are grateful.

Fats Waller and Andy Razaf’s I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING:

Irving Berlin’s most tender declaration of unbroken fidelity, ALWAYS (at such a beautiful tempo):

Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer’s most wistful SKYLARK full of birdsong:

This music is bold and gentle both, a remarkable offering. And a few more marvels will emerge in time.

May your happiness increase!

THE OCEANIC MOTION OF SWING: JANUARY 22, 1954

Yes, “the Swing Era” was over by January 1954.  But swing — as a concept easily and authentically realized — was not.  (It is lively and possible today.)

SCT4

I offer as evidence one of my favorite recordings, another gem — issued by who-knows-what “authority” on YouTube, SWINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES by the Sir Charles Thompson Quartet — from one of the sessions supervised by John Hammond for Vanguard Records.  Sir Charles, who is still with us in his nineties (born March 21, 1918) was joined by three angelic presences of rhythm — three-quarters of the original Count Basie rhythm section, Jo Jones, drums; Walter Page, string bass; Freddie Green, guitar, for this exploration of Jimmy Mundy’s swing classic, more usually encountered as a big-band performance.

Jake Hanna, who not only knew everything that could be known about swing but embodied it, said (often), “Start swinging from the beginning!” and Charles does just that with his solo passage to begin the performance: a simple figure that is already the most effective dance music possible.  Then the “rhythm men” join in, with more than fifteen years of experience from playing together night after night.  One hears the shimmer of Jo’s brushes on the hi-hat, with the dry slap and slide of those brushes on the snare drum, the resonant strings of Walter and Freddie, all complementing the bright percussive sound of Charles at the piano:

It all seems simple — and it goes by so quickly — but lifetimes of expert work in the field of swing are quietly on display here.  Note, for instance, how the overall sound changes at the bridge of the first chorus when Jo moves from his cymbal to the snare head, padding and patting away.  When they turn the corner into the second chorus (which, for Charles, has been a straightforward chordal exposition of the simple melodic line) we hear what set Charles apart from the great forebears, Waller, Basie, Wilson, Tatum, Cole, Kyle — his intriguing single-note lines which have a greater harmonic freedom than one might initially expect.  (Look at Charles’ discography and you see early work alongside Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Illinois Jacquet, Leo Parker.)  Hear the bridge of the second chorus, and delight in Charles’ wonderful mixture of stride, Kansas City swing, and bebop: James P. Johnson meets Al Haig, perhaps.  The Basie influence —  paring everything down to its most flowing essence — comes out more at the start of the third chorus, with the theme simplified for the greatest rhythmic effect, as if a trumpet section was playing these chords.

At this point I find it impossible to continue annotating because I am simply floating along on the music.  But two things stand out.  One is that all that I’ve described has taken around two minutes to be, to happen.  That’s a rich concision, a conservation of energy.  The other is Charles’ intentional use of space, to let us hear the three other players, who are — as they all know, not just subordinates but in some ways the Masters.  Charles could certainly swing as a soloist but this is so much more fun.

There’s a brief nod to CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS at 3:04, but it’s just a nod: the pattern of joyous riffing on the opening and closing sections, alternating with single-line explorations on the bridge has been set.  And I think — this is all surmise — that the four musicians did not spend more than a few minutes preparing.  SWINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES is, except for the bridge, harmonically dense, so I can imagine Charles saying, “I’ll do four bars to start; you join in at two, and let’s do this as an ending — I’ll let you know how many choruses we want, and let’s do a take.”  And I love the way the last chorus is an ornamented version of the first, with Jo returning to the hi-hat.

I think I first heard this record thanks to Ed Beach on his Sir Charles program: this might have been forty years ago.  SWINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES remains at the very apex of glowing inexhaustible swing.  It is so reassuring to know that it was created and we can hear it again — to soothe and uplift and remind us of what is indeed possible.

In one way, I think of having a book on the shelf with the most beautiful ode or short story, known and loved for decades, that we can always revisit simply by moving a few feet across the room.  But I think the pleasure of SWINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES goes deeper, at least for me: it’s like waking up, seeing the sun, breathing the air, going to the kitchen faucet for a glass of cold water, feeling one’s needs filled.

Listen.  Charles, Freddie, Walter, and Jo create a small universe of motion and joy that reminds us of the dancing universe around us.

May your happiness increase!

A MENU WITH ONLY THREE ITEMS

If I end up in a restaurant with a six-page menu, I can be sure that I will stare helplessly, dither, and then order something that I will regret three ways: instantly, while I am eating it, and while I am paying for it.  Alas.  Too much choice induces a kind of paralysis in me.

COFFEE SANDWICH

So that’s one reason this bouncy Twenties romance-song (mixing love and food, always a pleasing idea) has always appealed to me.  I like all three items on this musical menu!

Did someone think of modernizing Omar Khayyam’s jug and loaf — because of Prohibition or modesty?

Of course I wonder about the depth of Billy Rose’s contribution to the lyrics and would credit to the always-clever Al Dubin, who — as his daughter’s reminiscences of him describe — was so devoted to food that it shortened his life.

I am amused by the sheet music cover, where He has the coffee (one cup only) and She sits demurely, hands folded, in front of what looks like one-half of the most chaste sandwich imaginable.  (Finally, my proofreading self yearns to put a comma after SANDWICH, but one cannot edit the untidy universe. On the Roger Wolfe Kahn label below, there isn’t a serial comma in the Spanish title, either.)

Here’s a rather sedate version by Jack Buchanan and Gertrude Lawrence which is intriguing — although not jazz-tinged at all — because it has both Boy and Girl choruses and the verse:

Now, something more heated: the Roger Wolfe Kahn version from December 1925 — with beautiful playing throughout: the trumpets on the verse, the reed section on the first and last sixteen (with a sweet interlude on the bridge). And, yes, that’s Venuti swinging out, followed by the pride of Roosevelt, Long Island, Miff Mole — noble support from Schutt and Berton as well.  New York’s finest.

Tommy Gott, Leo McConville, trumpet; Chuck Campbell, Miff Mole, trombone; Arnold Brilhart, Owen A. Bartlett, Harold Sturr, reeds; Arthur Schutt, piano; Domenic Romeo, banjo / guitar; Arthur Campbell, tuba;  Joe Venuti, Joe Raymond, violin; Vic Berton, drums; Roger Wolfe Kahn, leader.

If you couldn’t dance to that record, something was wrong.

Something quite different, possibly from the mid-Fifties, a recording that mixes big-band conventions and hipster cool, making me wonder what was in the coffee Matt Dennis was offering the fair maiden, what flavoring:

Incidentally, attentive viewers will see that the executives at RCA Victor (I assume) thought it clever wordplay to call this record WELCOME MATT and have the star apparently arriving with one under his arm.  No one thought, “Hmmm.  You stand on the WELCOME mat, you wipe your shoes on it. Does this work for all of you?”

And this delicious oddity on the Starck label, in 1926, when the song was new, a performance by the seriously energetic pianist Vera Guilaroff and singer Herbert S. Berliner — son of Emile Berliner, who invented the flat disc record.  I love the dissonance between her rollicking playing and his stiff “singing”:

Now, some of you might be getting impatient.  “Where’s the Hot Jazz, Michael?”  Calm yourselves.  All things come to he, she, it, who wait.

YouTube is like eBay.  I cannot predict what I am going to find there at any moment, but it teems with surprises.  I went looking for versions of COFFEE yesterday morning to play for a friend who had never heard it, and I nearly leaped out of my chair when I saw that someone had posted Jeff Healey’s 2001 version from AMONG FRIENDS, one of my favorite recordings.  Ever.  Healey (much-missed) is on vocal and guitar, and then there’s the Anglo-American Alliance contingent, Dick Sudhalter, trumpet; John R.T. Davies, alto saxophone; Jim Shepherd, trombone . . . and Reide Kaiser, piano; Colin Bray, string bass.  From the opening wink at YOU’RE THE CREAM IN MY COFFEE, this record soars:

And when you’ve listened to it once, go back and savor all the other pleasures and in-jokes.  What a fine singer Healey was.  Sudhalter’s ANYTHING GOES. Healey’s Fats-like asides about hot coffee and smooth butter.  Shepherd’s individual approach and fine sound.  Ristic’s HUCKLEBUCK.  Sudhalter and Shepherd humming behind the bridge.  Bray’s slap-bass; Kaiser’s relentless stride push.  Healey’s guitar solo — Django meets Lang — and then the riotous ensemble, bass break, and out.  I wish this band had made a hundred recordings. I never tire of this, a delicious, satisfying Fats Waller ebullience without imitation.

I saw Healey only once in person — at a 2006 benefit for an ailing Sudhalter, and Jeff was gone in 2008.  But with music like COFFEE, I can’t think of him as dead, merely taking a set break.

I hope that wherever you are, the menu offerings please.

May your happiness increase!

THE RETURN of MIKE and MIKE (LIPSKIN and HASHIM, Smalls, April 28, 2015)

Jazz thrives on individuality.  The Ancestors always emphasized that a musician’s sound had to be as personal as a voice, instantly recognizable. Ben Webster spent the early part of his career trying to sound like Coleman Hawkins — a necessary stage in the development — then he realized it was time to be Ben Webster.

Two staunch individualists, happily thriving and playing, are swing piano master / singer / composer Mike Lipskin and saxophone master (here on alto and soprano) Mike Hashim.  And here are five beauties from their most recent New York City duo-recital, performed for an attentive international audience at Smalls on West Tenth Street in Greenwich Village.

I could have called this post THREE SLOW, TWO ROMPING, but you’ll discern such qualities for yourself as you watch and listen.

James P. Johnson’s wistful love poem, ONE HOUR:

Billy Strayhorn’s reverie, DAY DREAM:

I DON’T STAND A GHOST OF A CHANCE WITH YOU, that lovely ballad, has nearly vanished from the jazz repertoire.  I’m glad that Mike and Mike have good memories:

For Bix and the Louisiana Sugar Babes, an affirmation, THOU SWELL:

And for Fats.  The history’s inaccurate but the music is on course. CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS:

Thank you, gentlemen!  Come back soon.

May your happiness increase!

SOLACE IN SWING (June 26, 2015)

Though it’s a fickle age, beauty can always rescue us if we know where to look. And how to listen.  This spiritual panacea is brought to us by James Dapogny, piano; Mike Karoub, cello; Rod McDonald, guitar; Kurt Krahnke, string bass. Recorded by Laura Beth Wyman on June 26, 2015, at Glacier Hills Senior Living Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Fats Waller’s declaration of high fidelity:

Irving Berlin’s celebration of bliss (here with a little DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM nuance at the start and a little Spanish binge on the bridge):

How lyrical, how sublime.  I feel so much better.

May your happiness increase!

EDDIE CONDON, BUD FREEMAN, and THE CREATION OF JOY

Commodore Love

Eddie Condon, Bud Freeman, and I go ‘way back, although those two gentlemen would not have noticed me all that much.  I only saw Eddie once at close range, in the summer of 1972, and at several late concerts; I saw Bud once at a Newport in New York tribute to Eddie.

But I have been following both men since I was a youth in suburbia, when department stores had record departments and there was always a reason to walk to the one nearby or tag along when my parents, who loved to shop for what I think of as home-trivia, went to one that I couldn’t walk to.

I started collecting Louis Armstrong records, which should not shock anyone. But soon I decided that Jack Teagarden was fascinating as well, and bought THE GOLDEN HORN OF JACK TEAGARDEN, which featured Pee Wee Russell, Eddie, Wild Bill Davison, George Wettling, and others.  Then, in 1969, the Mainstream label started to issue vinyl compilations drawn from the Commodore Records catalogue.  Most, if not all, were in reprocessed stereo, had obtuse liner notes, limited discographical information . . . but here I could hear SERENADE TO A SHYLOCK.  I was hooked for life.  And I became a deep convert to Condonia, and the territory known as the Land of Bud.

Both of them are ferociously underrated musicians and their music, when mentioned, is often viewed patronizingly.  More about that later.  But I would fight for the Commodores and later Deccas to be taken as seriously as any small-group recordings of the period.  Click here for several sound samples: clear your mind of jazz-history debris (the categorization of this music as Not Terribly Innovative and Created Mostly by Caucasians) and listen.

CONDON MOSAIC

I’ve had the new Mosaic Records cornucopia of the Condon / Freeman Commodore / Deccas 1938-1950 sitting on my coffee table, the box unwrapped but the discs still virginal, for two weeks now.  I think I was afraid of breaking the spell.  Sometimes the hallowed records one remembers just aren’t what one has idealized, and one hears all the flaws.

But I began to listen, and disillusionment never appeared.  I approached the set in two ways — front and back — starting with the first Commodore session (admiring the way that I could hear shadings and subtleties I’d never heard before) and then the later Deccas . . . unheard Dave Tough, James P. Johnson, Johnny Windhurst, and more.

Here are the details.  Eight CDs, 199 tracks, many new Decca alternates, everything in gorgeous sound, $136.00.  Wonderful photographs, many new to me — and I’m a Condon obsessive.  Notes by Dan Morgenstern, a real plus.

The Commodore and Decca band sides of the first period, 1938 to 1944, are elated and elating music.  Even at slow tempos, a delicious energy bubbles through.  Condon and the Blessed Milt Gabler, the guiding light of Commodore, favored obscure pop songs of the early Twenties — PRAY FOR THE LIGHTS TO GO OUT, TELL ‘EM ABOUT ME, YOU CAN’T CHEAT A CHEATER, IT’S TULIP TIME IN HOLLAND, as well as impromptu blues and durable ballads. Where some of the later Commodore sessions (for example, those led by Muggsy Spanier) sound heavy in their earnestness, the Condons sound light, frisky.  One can study a record like MEET ME TONIGHT IN DREAMLAND or TAPPIN’ THE COMMODORE TILL for its ensemble lightness or densities, as well as the glowing solos.

And the Deccas that follow are almost as glorious — with alternate takes of beloved performances (IDA and JUST YOU, JUST ME) as well as familiar ones in wonderfully clear sound.

As with any Mosaic set, the incautious listener will go down into the depths and arise befuddled by an over-abundance of beauty.  Although the price is far lower than a collection of the original 78s, I urge any student of the music to listen with serious caution, as one might have in 1938 or 1945: two sides, at most, making up a listening session.

I have written elsewhere at length about my hopes for a re-evaluation of Eddie Condon as a color-blind prophet of authentic music, but here I wish to praise him as a beautiful Intuitive, someone who knew what tempos (the plural is intentional) would work, a guitarist who knew the right chords and whose beautiful sound uplifted any group.  Even in his last appearances, when the guitar was more an ornament than an instrument, Eddie knew how to make a group cohesive and sprightly.  I mean to take nothing away from Freddie Green, but rhythm guitarists and aspiring swingsters should study his work on these sides.  And if you take contemporaneous sides recorded by similar bands where Condon is not present, his absence is immediately heard and felt.  That’s the musician.  As for the man, history — taking his actions and utterances as the only evidence — has leaned towards a portrait of a man more enamored of alcohol than anything else, a wise-cracking smart-ass whose jibes were often mean. Some of that might be true: his quick-witted retorts were often not gentle, but the music, ultimately, is what counts.  And the Mosaic set offers it in glorious profusion.  (I would offer the WOLVERINE JAZZ sides as an engaging way to play “jazz repertory” that isn’t bound and gagged by the originals.)

Several heroes also shine through these sides.  One of the most noble is Jack Teagarden — as singer and trombonist.  I suspect that Teagarden has been ill-served by his durability (which is an odd statement, I admit) and his narrowing repertoire.  If one were to see him merely as a re-creator, say, of BASIN STREET BLUES into infinity, one would do him a great disservice.  I defy any trombonist to be as limber, as inventive, as surprising.  And as a singer he is simply glorious, even on the less inspiring material, such as IT’S TULIP TIME IN HOLLAND (which I find and always found terribly endearing).

I can’t say enough about Charles Ellsworth Russell, so I will simply say this.  To me he is the equal of Lester Young, of Benny Carter, and (yes!) of the King of Swing.  Too much has been made of his “eccentricities,” which are ultimately the hallmarks of an utterly self-aware and courageous musician.

The later Commodores often featured a violently effective front-line pairing of Wild Bill Davison and George Brunis, but these sides most often have Bobby Hackett and other lyrical trumpeters / cornetists: Max Kaminsky, Billy Butterfield, even Johnny Windhurst.  Hackett is my idea of angelic music: let that statement stand by itself, and Kaminsky’s even, compact playing is a wonderful model.  The rhythm sections on these records are delights in themselves: consider Jess Stacy or Joe Bushkin, George Wettling, Dave Tough, coming-to-the-rescue Lionel Hampton and even on one long delicious 1943 date, Sidney Catlett.  I can’t ignore delicious cameos by Fats Waller and Lee Wiley.

In 1969 and onwards, I tended to skip over the Bud Freeman trio sessions (with Stacy and Wettling).  How narrow my perspective was.  I now hear them as gloriously radical creations, slyly subversive answers to the Goodman Trio. In some ways, they are the most “free” recordings before the term became more common in jazz: three rollicking eccentrics going at it, each on his own path, improvising wildly and sometimes acrobatically.

And since Miles Davis is the Great Exalted Potentate of All Jazz in the past decades, I present this little passage (found my accident) where he speaks of Lawrence Freeman:

Lester had a sound and an approach like Louis Armstrong, only he had it on tenor sax. Billie Holiday had that same sound and style; so did Budd Johnson and that white dude, Bud Freeman. They all had that running style of playing and singing. That’s the style I like, when it’s running. It floods the tone. It has a softness in the approach and concept, and places emphasis on one note.

I didn’t make that up.

Rather than reading more of my words, I hope you listen to the music presented on the Mosaic site.  These sessions are as precious as any of the more “hallowed” contemporaries.  I would put them next to the Ellington, Hampton, Basie small groups of the period, and they stand up splendidly in comparison to the independent-label recordings of the Forties.  Clear your mind of the odious categorizations and enjoy.

Postscript: before writing this post, I intentionally did not read the beautiful liner notes by Dan Morgenstern, who was on the scene and knew Eddie . . . because Dan’s influence is so strong (in the best way) that I wanted to attempt to write this from my own perspective.  But I know that Mister Morgenstern and I will agree.

May your happiness increase!

May your happiness increase!

FAT, HOT, GOOD: THE FAT BABIES at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 28, 2014)

Seriously hot: the Fat Babies take on jazz classics, pop tunes, and obscure delights at the San Diego Jazz Fest (Nov. 28, 2014).  They are Beau Sample, string bass; Alex Hall, drums; Paul Asaro, piano, vocals; Jake Sanders, guitar / banjo; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto, Jonathan Doyle (a guest star from Austin, Texas), reeds; Andy Schumm, cornet, arrangements.  They’re a favorite band of mine and they have a loyal following.

A small caveat: You’ll hear some sweetly animated conversation from a few people to my right.  I try to regard it as gently surrealistic commentary.  I was trained to respect my elders, even when they are oblivious, so JAZZ LIVES listeners bear the burden of my politeness. It’s too late to get annoyed at the audience (very pleasant people).  Or me.

Doc Cooke’s HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN:

Johnny DeDroit’s THE SWING:

From the Perry Bradford and his Jazz Phools book — originally featuring a young Louis Armstrong, LUCY LONG:

Bixiana! OH, BABY, DON’T SAY NO, SAY MAYBE:

More Bixiana! BIG BOY:

Jimmie Noone, Earl Hines, and the mysterious Floyd Mills’ CHICAGO RHYTHM:

A blues made memorable by a Jack Teagarden cornet chorus, IT’S SO GOOD [or, as Michael McQuaid once announced it at Whitley Bay, IT’S NO GOOD]:

A hot Henderson opus, COME ON, BABY!:

A pop tune recorded by Jack Linx and other worthies, OH, ME, OH, MY:

A Twenties pop ballad, SAVE YOUR SORROW:

Jumping forward into wild modernity, Paul pays homage to a delicious Fats Waller record of I’LL DANCE AT YOUR WEDDING:

Tiny Parham’s ROCK BOTTOM (not personally):

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE (a little laginappe: a jam session for two reeds — John Otto and Jon Doyle — and the rhythm section):

Good hot sounds. There will be more good music at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest, which will take place from Nov. 25-29.  Details will be available here, and I promise to write more about the Fest as the autumn gets closer.

May your happiness increase!