Tag Archives: FDR

CONNIE, VET, AND MARTHA (Continued . . . .)

In case you didn’t know, there’s a wonderful new blog devoted to the Sisters and to the book that Kyla Titus (Vet’s granddaughter) is writing about them:

THE BOSWELL SISTERS.  This book is going to be more than a family memoir, more than an adoring fan’s tribute . . . it places the Sisters in their proper historical context — alongside Bing, Louis, and FDR, lighting the way.

And — if that’s not enough for the objects of our affection — there’s also a Bozzies website full of music and history and more:  BOZZIES.  The Sisters are irreplaceable but also the best tonic and panacea I know . . .

May your happiness increase.

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THE HARLEM UPROAR HOUSE, 1937-8

Last week, the Beloved and I were in a highly-recommended multi-dealer antique store in Sebastopol, California, picking up this, commenting on that.  Happily we don’t “need” to buy everything, so we aren’t faced with housefuls of antiques.

A dull brown folder about the size of a ten-disc 78 record album caught my eye.  It contained more than a hundred matchbook covers glued to black scrapbook pages.

Its owner, I am guessing, had been a traveling salesman or the like in the late Thirties and early Forties — a cosmopolitan fellow, eating fried chicken in Utah, having drinks in Buffalo.  Some of the matchbooks were clearly early World War Two, urging the holder to do something that would take a whack at Hitler.

Many of the covers featured mildly naughty illustrations: the one at top wasn’t the most enticing, but it did stop me in my survey.  It wasn’t just the scantily clad young woman or the pun on Roosevelt’s New Deal, but I remembered the “Harlem Uproar House,” paradoxically located seventy-five blocks south in midtown, as a place with serious jazz connections.

Late in 1937, Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow, a man with large dreams, rehearsed and led a mixed jazz band — Caucasian and African-American players, which he modestly called the DISCIPLES OF SWING.  I don’t  have my copy of REALLY THE BLUES nearby, but I recall the band had Frank Newton, Sidney deParis, Zutty Singleton, Gene Sedric, George Lugg, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Elmer James, and perhaps Happy Caldwell in its ranks.  But the world — even the sophisticated Broadway audience — was unwilling to countenance black and white playing together, and swastikas painted on the club ended the engagement in a week.  (It’s painful to recall, but New York was full of such sentiment: the potato farms on Long Island made room for meetings of the German-American Bund, and “America First” was part of the current dialogue.)

I wanted to offer JAZZ LIVES readers their own “nude deal,” and some online research was enlightening.  When you went to the Harlem Uproar House, there was a minimum charge of $1.00 after 10:00 PM; the drink menu started at fifty cents and went up to ten dollars for a quart of champagne.  A shrimp cocktail was fifty cents; broiled Maine lobster $1.50.

This wooden postcard obviously dates from the same time as the matchbook:

I found two other images at the blog of the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History (101 Auburn Avenue NE, Atlanta GA 30303-2503,
404.730.4001.  Archives Division – ext. 200.  http://www.afpls.org/aarl)

http://aarlarchives.blogspot.com/2010/10/treasures-from-vertical-files-harlem.html

I note that the blue image suggests that the club offers A NEW DEAL IN NIGHT LIFE, a more well-behaved advertisement suggesting that you and your girl could go there and swing out — especially if she is so beautifully dressed.  Did NEW DEAL replace NUDE DEAL, or the reverse?  My fashion-conscious readers can tell me the name of her outfit; the dance historians among my readers can no doubt identify the swing dance they are doing.

Aside from imagining how Mezz’s band sounded and wishing for a menu with 1937 prices, this is where my research came to an end.  More information, anyone?  and if anyone has any airchecks of the Disciples of Swing, those wouldn’t do us any harm, would they?  Although I have dark imaginings that Mezz took most of the solo space or at least he played along with the other improvisers, as was his habit.  Oh well.  Anyone who even envisioned a band with Frank Newton and Zutty Singleton in it can be forgiven a great deal.

“YOU ARE GENE KRUPA.”

Gene Krupa was born one hundred years ago today, January 13, 1909.

Krupa, alive and dead, has been the subject of a good deal of speculation — trying to establish his place in jazz, in history, in American culture.  I prefer to celebrate him as a musician who was at one with his instrument, someone who kept his artistic identity intact (except for a brief period in the late Forties, when the band wore berets to show that they too were beboppers).

My title comes from a film clip — from a movie that must have been made in two days, if that, called BOY! WHAT A  GIRL!  The scene below includes my hero Sidney Catlett, Benny Morton, Dick Vance, Don Stovall, and a few others . . . with a surprise visit from Mr. Krupa.  He plays, incidentally, as he did in 1927 with Condon and McKenzie, in 1938 with Goodman, and as he did at the New School in 1972, the last time I saw him: throwing himself fully into the beat.   ‘

The conceit of Krupa surprising Catlett (who is asked to pretend that he doesn’t recognize his friend Gene, one of the most famous figures in the world in 1947) is fanciful, somewhat like one of those cameos Hope and Crosby used to do in each other’s movies, but Sidney’s tagline, “You are Gene Krupa,” makes me pause.

One of Krupa’s great gifts was that he made a whole generation, perhaps two, want to do “tricks with the sticks” just as he did.  Think of Louis Bellson, of Mel Torme, of a young Kevin Dorn.  And think of all those people, practicing paradiddles on their Slingerland Radio Kings, who wanted to be Gene Krupa.  And they believed that they could be Gene.  Bing Crosby made millions of people think that they could sing just as well as he did.  That gift — of making people think such mastery was possible  — is a rare one, and we dare not undervalue it.  Some artists — Charlie Parker and Art Tatum come to mind — are so far beyond the ordinary that we know emulating them is a lifetime’s work.  But Krupa, whose art was no less subtle, humbly suggested by his very presence that his art and the resulting pleasure was within our reach.  It was as powerful a democratic idea as FDR talking to Americans through their radios as if they and he were . . . just people, to whom you could tell the truth.

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I will conclude this post with a picture of a man who looks out of place in a jazz blog.  He doesn’t have a suit; he doesn’t hold a musical instrument.  (His clothes, mind you, are something we all should aspire to.)

But he belongs here.  Readers will have noticed that the Beloved and I have been visiting Maui (from where I am writing this).  A few days ago, we drove to Makawao and visited the church’s thrift store, where we both bought excellent clothing.  On our way out, this gentleman — energetic, garrulous, and enthusiastic — arrived to donate a chair he had made himself (you can see it in the picture) to the thrift store.  He didn’t want any money for it, although he said they should charge $75 for it, and told me that he made it just to keep himself healthy.

In the fashion of such conversations, he asked me where I was from.  When I said, “New York,” he got very excited and told me that he had been in New York in 1942, as a member of the 82nd Division, that he had been a paratrooper with 300 jumps, that he had stayed in New York at the Hotel Chesterfield (for two dollars a night), had been to the Statue of Liberty.

And then he paused, for dramatic emphasis.  “I went to Madison Square Garden.  Do you know who I saw there?  I saw GENE KRUPA!  Do you know who Gene Krupa is?  He (pantomining) played the drum!”

He was beaming, and so was I.

This man, who must be in his late eighties, still has Gene Krupa in his thoughts, in his memory, as if 1942 was yesterday.

If you give yourself generously to people, as Krupa did, you never die.  Happy Birthday, Gene.