Tag Archives: Frank Chace

FAREWELL, HOT MAN

I learned on August 31 that the trumpeter / guitarist / pianist Ted Butterman, much loved in the Chicago area, had died after a long illness. I am not happy when JAZZ LIVES threatens to turn into the obituary pages, but as Linda Loman says, “Attention must be paid.”

I never met Ted, but I have a network of friends who adored and admired him, so the connection, although indirect, is there. It’s also there because an early memorable record that I love is Jim Kweskin’s JUMP FOR JOY, which features him — and it is the way I met him, sonically, perhaps fifty years ago (in the company of Marty Grosz, Kim Cusack, John Frigo, Frank Chace, and Wayne Jones):

I should write first that this post would have irritated Ted immeasurably, because, as his friend Harriet Choice told me, he could not accept compliments; praise annoyed him. So I apologize to his shade, and, rather, embark in the spirit of Ted’s friends, who played YOU RASCAL YOU at his funeral . . . followed eventually by SAINTS, which would have irked him even more — bringing wry levity to a sad time.

And here’s Ted before he came to Chicago, playing hot in San Francisco in 1958:

NASA tells me that the overall temperature of the galaxy drops whenever a hot player moves on: it’s no accident that I had to put on a jacket this morning before sitting down at the computer. (That pale joke is in Ted’s honor: Bess Wade told me he was comical by nature, with a big laugh.)

Some tales, then more music.

Tom Bartlett: He was quite a character and, of course, an excellent musician. Kim Cusack has often said that Ted was the best real musician he ever played with.

My story to share: While playing with the Cubs Band at Wrigley Field, whenever Ted spotted a TV cameraman sneaking up on the band to get a sound bite and often shoving the camera up to Ted’s trumpet bell, Ted always yelled “Rapscallian”. We immediately launched into I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You. That means that every sound bite on all TV stations in Chicago had the same piece of this tune. That was just one of Ted’s private little jokes, Our little trio HAD to play that tune at his gravesite yesterday in his memory.

Rapscallian? Ted enjoyed a play on words.

Although Ted never lost the innate heat of his playing, later in life he could be so mellow, remembering the Teddy Wilson – Billie Holiday classics of the Thirties. Here’s MISS BROWN TO YOU from a 1980 gig:

That middle-register ease makes me think of Buck Clayton, one of Ted’s heroes, and a story about fashion that Harriet Choice told me: One night Ted was playing at the Gate of Horn, and Buck Clayton walked in, horn in hand, and sat in. Ted noticed that Buck, always an elegant dresser, had a particularly lovely shirt with an unusual collar. After the gig, they went back to Ted’s apartment to swap stories, and Ted complimented Buck on the shirt, and asked him where it had come from. Buck simply removed the shirt, gave it to Ted as a token of esteem, and when the evening was over, Buck walked back to his hotel in his undershirt. Hearing this story some time later, Harriet asked Ted to put the shirt on so she could see it, and Ted flatly refused. “Oh no,” he said, “It’s sacred.”

Russ Phillips simply told me, Ted was so unlike anyone I’ve ever known and played with.

And Kim Cusack reiterated, Ted always played and sounded great, no matter the situation and/or band.  I was awed by his playing the first I got a chance to play with him in the late ’50s and he kept me awed in all the variety of bands I got a chance to play in with him.  Everything he played was exactly what it should have been. 

Here is a long interlude of Ted at work — with Kim, Frank Chace, Bob Sundstrom, Wayne Jones, John Deffauw, Ransom Knowling, Art Gronwall, and others — a 1961 gig tape, nearly two hours’ of on-the-job easy heat, given to me by Wayne. (Full disclosure: Kim told me that he didn’t think this was an outstanding example of Ted, but my feeling is that it is quite spectacular, and I can only imagine the music Kim heard that put this in the shade.)

A quirky energy ran through Ted’s playing — he was deep in the idiom but a listener can’t predict the next phrase — and that same quirky energy seems to have animated his approach to life. Harriet told me that once Ted said, “I think I’ll call Hoagy,” found our hero’s phone number in some way, called him, and they spent an hour talking about music. (Although music wasn’t his sole passion: he was an expert builder of model airplanes and loved electric trains.)

His hero was Louis, she said, which you can hear. Ted led the Cubs band at Wrigley Field for more than thirty-five years, and his was the first “five o’clock band” at Andy’s jazz club. He loved good ballads, and Harriet remembers his rendition of CABIN IN THE PINES with tears. They exchanged emails about records to take to that imagined desert island.

More music, if you please. Ted doesn’t come in until the second half, but his beautiful melodic lead and coda are precious:

I am aware that this is quite an inadequate survey of a singular person and musician. For more music, there is Ted’s own YouTube channel, quietly waiting to be marveled at, and Dave Radlauer’s treasure trove of rare live recordings, here.

For the totality, I think we’d have to gather Ted’s friends and let them share their own tales, “Remember the time when Ted . . . ?” or “Ted always used to . . . . ” I know I have provided only the most meager sample. Readers who knew him or have stories are invited to chime in.

And I’ll close with this recording. “Lucky” is not the way I feel writing another jazz obituary, but we are lucky that Ted shone his light so beautifully for us in so many ways:

May your happiness increase!

PEARLS: DON EWELL, MARTY GROSZ, FRANK CHACE, BILL PRIESTLEY (Spring 1959); DON EWELL, SOLO (December 20, 1941)

Frank Chace

A memorable bouquet of rare sounds, music I’ve loved for decades.

and Marty Grosz, young:

Selections 1-9 recorded at Bill Priestley’s house, Evanston, Illinois, by John Steiner, either March or June 21, 1959.

Don Ewell, piano; Frank Chace, clarinet; Marty Grosz, guitar; Bill Priestley*, cornet. I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN'(with the verse) / SUNNY SIDE UP / SQUEEZE ME / JUST YOU, JUST ME / EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA* / SINGIN’ THE BLUES (Chace out)* / I FOUND A NEW BABY (Ewell, Grosz, Chace, Priestley)*.

(I have no idea what the double-time knocking is in the later tracks: whether something is vibrating or someone is drumming on a surface near the microphone. I didn’t do it.)

Don Ewell, solo piano, December 20, 1941, Louisville, Kentucky: ROSETTA / CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS? //

Original tape from the collection of Eugene Kramer.

Marty Grosz told me once that when he and Frank Chace were listening buddies as well as intuitive playing colleagues, they would listen to Pee Wee Russell’s solo on the Muggsy Spanier Commodore recording of SWEET SUE over and over, take a break and listen again. And that one of them said, “Doesn’t that just scrape the clouds?”

That is how I feel about this session. An earful of blossoms, with depth under the surface beauties. Each of these individualists bows respectfully to the great Ancestors, but the deep listener will hear four individual personalities come through: this isn’t a Russell-Waller-Beiderbecke-Lang hologram, and it would be an insult to hear only those glancing resemblances, instead of unique personalities coming together to fuse remarkable community.

Memorable, irreplaceable.

May your happiness increase!

A MODERNISTIC CHAMBER RECITAL by MESSRS. GROSZ, CHACE, and BENGE (10.25.56)

Marty Grosz and Bob Haggart, date and location not known

I could have called what follows HOT MUSIC FROM DEEP CHICAGO and it would have been equally true: intense improvised readings of two popular songs of the late Twenties by Marty Grosz, guitar; Frank Chace, clarinet; Joe Benge, drums . . . privately recorded, probably by John Steiner, on October 25, 1956. (Source material from Joe Boughton or Wayne Jones, preserved and edited by Hal Smith.)

Marty, of course, is internationally renowned; Frank deserves to be equally celebrated. (Frank called Marty, reverently, “a one-man rhythm gang,” and that’s still true, but I think neither man gets full credit for a lovely yearning lyricism.)

Drummer Joe Benge is almost unknown in jazz circles; he was an Amherst College alumnus at the time of this session, and a member of the college’s Delta Five, which also included the late and much-missed cornetist John Bucher. But he led a fascinating life: he went to Evanston High School, which probably led to his connection with this group; he studied German at Amherst and Northwestern, and worked in advertising: he’s responsible for the “Maytag repairman” ads. In 1972, he became a manager for a canoe outfitter in Ontario; he was an ecological activist and naturalist, also teaching native children. He lived until 2016. Clearly a remarkable person.

Back to my hero (and once-upon-a-time phone conversationalist) Frank Chace. The reflex reaction of the first-time listener is to say, “He sounds just like Pee Wee Russell!” to which I would say, “He revered Pee Wee, but he also revered Omer Simeon, Frank Teschemacher, Jimmie Noone . . . and he folded all these influences into a shape uniquely his.” Close listening will reveal his own sweet-strange inventiveness, which continues to reward, elate, and surprise.

Music, then. CHERRY, from the McKinney’s Cotton Pickers’ book:

and Rodgers and Hart’s BLUE MOON:

As memorable as Casals -Thibaud – Cortot, and hotter. Bless these cats. Forevermore.

May your happiness increase!

A GREAT BAND YOU MIGHT NEVER HAVE HEARD: “THE GOLD COAST JAZZ BAND,” TED BUTTERMAN, BOB SUNDSTROM, FRANK CHACE, PETER NYEGAARD, ART GRONWALL, RANSOM KNOWLING, WAYNE JONES (Gate of Horn, Chicago, January 9, 1961)

Probably most readers have never heard of this band, although the names of Wayne Jones, Frank Chace, Ted Butterman, and perhaps Ransom Knowling will be familiar. I don’t know how I got in touch with Wayne, who died in 2013, but we shared a deep love of clarinetist Frank Chace, so we traded a few cassettes. Incidentally, several organizations call themselves by this name, but the one you will hear existed in Chicago in the first half of the 1960s.

Before I proceed, take a few minutes to remember Wayne — man and musician, recalled so well and affectionately by the fine drummer and writer Hal Smith here. Two of the three cassettes Wayne sent me were by the GOLD COAST JAZZ BAND, recorded on Mondays (an off-night) at the famous and now-departed folk-music club, “Gate of Horn,” on Dearborn Street in Chicago.

(If you’d like to hear more from and about the Gold Coast delegates of joy, John Clark’s podcast about the band with four performances from slightly later incarnations can be enjoyed here.)

But our focus today is a very vibrant recording of two sets by a particularly vibrant 1961 band: Ted Butterman, cornet; Peter Nyegaard, trombone; Frank Chace, clarinet (possibly subbing for Kim Cusack); Art Gronwall, piano; Bob Sundstrom, banjo and vocal on ALL BY MYSELF; Ransom Knowling, string bass; Wayne Jones, drums. Ted and Bob were co-leaders of the band. The songs are SMILES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / I WANT A LITTLE GIRL / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME / ALL OF ME (Chace’s melody chorus!) / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART (with Condon “Town Hall” breaks at end) // SOUTH / INDIANA / HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO? / ALL BY MYSELF (Sundstrom, vocal) / I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:

The tape shows us a remarkable bunch of hot players, their improvisations free from cliche but full of personality. I am struck beyond words by Frank Chace’s lyrical courage and singularity, but the energy level is superb throughout, the swing, the inventiveness. Wonderful ensemble work, inventive solos, and a trotting rhythm section: a small treasure. I wrote a recent post [“WHO KILLED HISTORY?”] urging listeners and musicians to be curious; you might know none of the names of the players, but you will be entranced by this band sixteen bars in to the first selection.

There’s more to come from another evening with this band (with surprise guests), the following Monday night: a gift from the generous Wayne Jones, who lives on in sound and spirit.

May your happiness increase!

WITH DISPATCH AND VIGOR: MARTY GROSZ and FRANK CHACE and FRIENDS, 1951

Marty Grosz, young, spiffy.

One of Marty Grosz’s favorite vaudeville bits is to announce the next number, and say “. . . performed with dispatch and vigor,” and then motion to two musicians near him, saying, “That’s Dispatch, and that’s Vigor.” How old it is I don’t know, but it still provokes a laugh from me and the audience. (The expression goes back to the eighteenth century and before: it crops up in a letter from George Washington, which would please Marty if he doesn’t already know it.)

Perhaps the earliest recording we have of Marty (then playing a four-string guitar) and his miraculous colleague Frank Chace dates from 1951, issued on a limited edition 10″lp by THE INTENSELY VIGOROUS JAZZ BAND. The personnel is John Dengler, cornet; Marty Ill, trombone; Frank Chace, clarinet; Hal Cabot, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Stan Bergen, drums. Princeton, New Jersey, May 1951. I have a copy here somewhere, but it proves elusive. From what I remember of the liner notes, Marty and Frank were ringers, added to the Princeton students’ band of the time.

Frank Chace, young, ferociously intense.

Through the good offices of the very generous collector Hot Jazz 78rpms — who shares marvels regularly on his YouTube channel — I can offer you all of this rather grainy but certainly precious disc. But before you leap into auditory splendor, may I caution you: not everyone on this session is at the same level, but it would be wrong to give it only a passing grade as “semi-pro college Dixieland.” Close listening will reveal subtleties, even in the perhaps overfamiliar repertoire. Marty, Frank, and John shine. And the three Princetonians, none of whom went on to jazz fame, play their roles. With dispatch and vigor.

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:

BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES (a memorable Chace chorus):

THE CHARLESTON:

I FOUND A NEW BABY:

THE SHEIK OF ARABY (my favorite):

BASIN STREET BLUES:

AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL:

and, yes, WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN with some of its original luster intact:

Intense, vigorous, and joyous too. And if you hear echoes of Eddie, Charles Ellsworth, Bix, and their friends, that’s not a bad thing.

May your happiness increase!

SONATAS IN THE SUNSHINE (Opus One): RICKY ALEXANDER, JAY RATTMAN, MATT MUNISTERI at The Ear Out, June 27, 2021

As James Chirillo has been known to say after a particularly satisfying session, “Music was made.” That it was, last Sunday afternoon in the bright sunshine (and cooling breezes) in front of the Ear Inn on 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City. The EarRegulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone; Ricky Alexander, clarinet and tenor saxophone. But before a note had been played, Jon-Erik noticed that the Check Engine light was shining from his trumpet, so he absented himself for a bit to get it looked at, secure that music would be made in his absence. (He came back before the set was over.)

This was a novel instrumentation, one that might have been either earthbound or unbalanced in the hands of lesser musicians. But the synergy here was more than remarkable, and the pleasure created in each chorus was palpable. This hot chamber trio — soaring, lyrical, rambunctious — performed six songs in their trio set. Here are the first three, to be savored.

SUNDAY, which goes back to 1926 (think Jean Goldkette and Cliff Edwards) but was also a favorite of Lester Young. Here, the Mini-EarRegulars also play the verse, an unexpected pleasure:

UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE was one of Frank Chace’s favorite songs, and I think of the tender version by Ella and Louis. A rarity, though: when was the last time you heard a group play it?

And Edgar Sampson’s rocking BLUE LOU:

A fellow listener turned to me between songs and said, marveling, “Aren’t they grand?” I agreed, as I hope you would have also.

Much more to come.

May your happiness increase!

THAT “ONE-MAN RHYTHM GANG”: MARTY GROSZ THEN AND NOW (FRANK CHACE, DAN SHAPERA, 1984, and an upcoming Philadelphia performance, May 26, 2021, with DANNY TOBIAS, VINCE GIORDANO, JACK SAINT CLAIR)

Nattily attired Marty Grosz: photograph by Lynn Redmile.

I find it amazing and wonderful when my jazz heroes actually inhabit the same planet that I am on, that they are not only sounds coming out of a speaker but people I can see and hear in 2021. One such remarkably durable fellow, born in 1930, is Martin Oliver Grosz, MOG to some, Marty Grosz, guitarist, singer, banjoist, monologist, vaudeville star, writer (have you read his autobiography, IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE?).

Marty will be appearing (yes!) in concert at the Awbury Arboretum in Philadelphia, on Wednesday, May 26, from 6:30 – 8:30, with Vince Giordano, Danny Tobias, and Jack Saint Clair, all of this presented by the Barry Wahrhaftig and the Hot Club of Philadelphia: details here. Tickets here. But it’s a small venue, so I wouldn’t wait until Wednesday to attempt to get a seat.

Writing about Marty without providing evidence of his musical life-force would be mingy. So here’s a half-hour of multicolored joys from the past. It was recorded on 1/29/84, at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago: Frank Chace, clarinet; Marty Grosz, guitar and vocal; Dan Shapera, string bass. The songs are OH, SISTER, AIN’T THAT HOT? / THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU / LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS / I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (MG vocal) / SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME. Possibly recorded by Joe Boughton; details thanks to Hal Smith:

This photograph, circa 1965, has nothing to do with the particular recording. But it has Frank (nearest to the camera) and Jim Dapogny, on second cornet, and is thus priceless.

Two other things, very briefly. The wonderful string bassist heard here, Dan Shapera, is still with us. Blessings and thanks to you, Sir! And my Homeric epithet for Marty, “a one-man rhythm gang,” was the coinage of Frank Chace, who valued Marty more than words could and can say. For all the hot hi-jinks on this tape, it’s Frank’s two ballads that go right to my heart.

Enjoy the past — but get you to the Arboretum to savor the present. And the presents.

May your happiness increase!

SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE GIRLS’ SCHOOL (December 1, 1951)

Concord Academy, Concord, Mass., established 1922 for grades 9-12, enrollment less than 500 students.  Surely I don’t understand upper-class girls’ boarding schools, but it seems the last place one would find a hot jazz concert — or was it a dance? — in late 1951.  Then again, jazz was still the popular music.  Doing research on the Boston hot jazz scene of this period, I came upon this passage from a 1950 story in the Harvard Crimson about the genesis of the school’s hot band, the Crimson Stompers.  Savor this as a relic of a vanished time, please:

They went twice to Smith College (Gifford is carried away by the memory where 200 girls in sweat shirts and dungarees sat in a semicircle and shrieked for the real oldtimers like “Coal Cart Blues” (an Armstrong standby).

That, I think, is the emotional connection between Concord Academy and jazz.

One of the musicians, cornetist Johnny Windhurst, then 25, had substantial fame.  Windhurst had been the second horn in Sidney Bechet’s quintet that broadcast from the Savoy Cafe in 1945; he had returned to the Savoy in 1949 with Edmond Hall’s band that had Vic Dickenson in the front line.  In New York, he had performed with Eddie Condon, Jack Teagarden, James P. Johnson, and other notables, at Town Hall and the Stuyvesant Casino; in 1952, he would be playing regularly at Eddie Condon’s on West Third Street.  Windhurst turned down opportunities to travel, would not learn to read music, and stayed close to home until his death in 1981.  He is a glorious player, his solos arching towards the skies.

Trombonist Eddie Hubble was an early associate of Bob Wilber, a superb extension of Jack Teagarden, and by this time he had performed with Red McKenzie, Wild Bill Davison, Frank Chace, George Wein, Doc Evans, Joe Sullivan.  He, too, was heard on Boston radio broadcasts.

“Ollie” Taylor [Oliver S. Taylor, Harvard, ’53] may not have continued on with music, and his recorded career is limited to two performances linked to drummer Walt Gifford.  But he was playing alongside professionals as early as 1948.  His father was a Harvard history professor, and the Harvard hot band, the Crimson Stompers, formed and rehearsed at the Taylor house.

I know even less about the fine supportive pianist Pete Hewitt: he recorded three sides with a band led by Gifford that also had Hubble.  Where did he go after Harvard?  Walt Gifford, Harvard ’52, managed the Crimson Stompers, and he had a professional career which I can follow into the Sixties, he did not get the notice his work deserved.  (Then again, I say to myself, “Who does?”)

That Boston-and-beyond scene was flourishing: Ed Hall, Frank Chace, and Frank Newton played and recorded with iterations of the Crimson Stompers; the young woman who would become Barbara Lea — born Leacock — was both their star singer and Windhurst’s girlfriend.

I also am reasonably sure that the music was recorded by Joe Boughton, who was an early and pious Windhurst devotee [archivist? stalker?], a wonderful thing, seventy years later — although I have a half-memory of some musician writing something like, “Wherever we’d be playing, he’d show up with the damned tape recorder and it would be running.”  To my right, as I write this, I have a photograph of Windhurst on my wall, inscribed to Boughton, with surprise at a “sober Saturday”! Thank goodness we have slightly more than a half hour of the music: all “Dixieland” classics, and beautifully played: strong soaring solos, wonderful rhythm (you don’t miss a string bass), nice riffs and backgrounds.  As young as they were, they were splendidly professional.  And not to slight Ollie Taylor, it is Windhurst and Hubble who continue to astonish (they were both continuing to do so when I saw them, separately, in 1971 and 1972.)

I also don’t know anything about a school like Concord Academy and its cultural anthropology.  Was this a dance?  Did the girls get to invite their beaux?  Or was it a social event where the band played for listening?  I don’t sense a large room crowded with eager teens; in fact, it’s hard to sense an audience at all.  I wish I knew, but here’s the music.  And what music!

In Windhurst I often hear Hackett, but Bobby with almost insolent ease, fluidity and power — although it’s clear that he’s absorbed Louis and the Condon trumpet crew.  When he moves around on the cornet, there’s never any strain, as he accomplishes versions of super-Bix.  And that sound! — full and shining.  Next to him, Hubble echoes Teagarden but also the slippery power and audacity of Lou McGarity and Brad Gowans.  Taylor’s approach is slightly less assured — more Parenti than Hucko — but his earnest lyricism is sweetly appealing, and occasionally (hear the end of his chorus on ONE HOUR, where he asks himself, “What would Pee Wee do?”) he comes up with memorable phrases, although occasionally he’s not completely familiar with the song.  Hewitt is wonderfully orchestral and spare at once, summoning Stacy and streamlined stride (SAINTS is the best example); he isn’t fancy in the ensembles, but you feel him providing solidly moving chordal support.  And Gifford plays splendidly for the band, sometimes pushing the hi-hat in the best Jo Jones fashion, otherwise relying on snare and bass drum, always thinking of what the band needs at the moment in the nicest Wettling manner.  It’s a very cooperative band — players who had worked together and readily created supporting figures.  And although the repertoire is familiar as “Dixieland,” the rhythmic emphasis here is on swing: they’re playing the tunes rather than copying the hallowed recordings.  Hear how Hubble and Windhurst leap into their solos on SAINTS.

Can you tell I admire this band?

The songs are WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / IF I COULD BE WITH YOU / JADA / JAZZ ME BLUES / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / SAINTS / SUGAR (faded out):

The recording — I feel certain it’s tape or a 33 rpm acetate — has been edited to eliminate both applause and pauses between songs, and the microphone is inside the band so that we hear the musicians’ comments to each other.  Was it broadcast on the local radio station?  And the recordist turns up the right knob while Hewitt solos so that his sound isn’t lost: this isn’t an accidental “capture.”

On Facebook, I hear many young bands showing their skills — sometimes simply their enthusiasm.  I wish many of them would study this tape: it’s a model of how to play this repertoire with great expertise and passion while making it look easy, aiming for polished small-band swing rather than trying to replicate some more ancient evidence.

Enjoy the glowing sounds as well as the little mysteries that accompany them: the people who could have explained it all are gone. Think of a time when such a band could exist and play a date at a local school.  Days gone by for sure.  (I wonder whether Concord Academy has its own archives: one can dream.  I will send this post to them.)

P.S.  I invite the word-averse to skip what follows.  Between 2006 and 2020, I carried video recording equipment to gigs; with large interruptions, I had brought audio equipment from 1971 to 2006 and sometimes beyond.  Through the immense kindness of jazz benefactors John L. Fell, Bill Coverdale, Bill Gallagher, Bob Hilbert, Roy Bower, Bert Whyatt, Tom Hustad, Hal Smith, Ricky Riccardi, Sonny McGown, and others, I’ve amassed hours — years, it seems — of rare recordings, primarily on audiocassette.  Thanks to a grant from the Charles Sammut Foundation and Laura Wyman’s encouragement, I figured out how to convert those cassettes into moderately-competent YouTube videos, and I’ve been doing this for the last month.  Why?  Some of this activity is an antidote to pandemic boredom-and-loneliness, but there is also my thought that when my executors come to clean out my apartment, and they are a very hip bunch, no one has room for three or four hundred cassettes.  It pained me that if I didn’t do something about it, my tapes (for example) of Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Joe Thomas, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones, Bennie Morton . . . would never be heard.  That was intolerable to me.  So I hope you greet these audio rarities with the pleasure that I take in sharing them.

May your happiness increase!

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

I looked in the kitchen cupboard where the Fanciful Prose is kept, and I’m nearly all out — so all I will write is that I hope you join me on our Sunday journey through time and space to that Oasis of Good Sounds and Good Friends, The Ear Inn at 326 Spring Street.  Let us visit with the EarRegulars, that noble group of superheroes who pretend to be mortals with ordinary powers — an illusion that drops when they begin to make music.

Come with me to November 7, 2010, for some quartet magic from Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet, Alex Hoffman, tenor saxophone, Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass.

Memory and cognition are wonderful things, thus, I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU:

That’s not a cane!  It’s MY WALKING STICK, thanks to Irving and Louis:

And the ballad that Frank Chace so loved, UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE:

Let’s have some peaceful Sundays, shall we, where we can gather in loving friendship.  Someday, face to face and hand in hand — but until that’s possible, let us pretend that it is, in front of our lit screens.

May your happiness increase!

“LUCKY ALL MY LIFE”: EPHRAIM RESNICK, TROMBONE and PIANO (July 6, 2020)

My phone rang on July 3.  This in itself would not be unusual.  But that the caller ID panel read “Ephraim Resnick” was a surprise.  I had been on a quest to find the wonderful and elusive trombonist (now pianist) Ephie Resnick for a few years, and had enlisted my dear friend — also a fine trombonist — Dick Dreiwitz in the search.

I knew Ephie first as a beautiful soulful viruoso heard on live recordings from George Wein’s Storyville in 1952 — alongside Pee Wee Russell and Ruby Braff; later, I’d seen him with the New York Jazz Repertory Company in their 1972 tribute to Louis Armstrong, some of which was released on Atlantic, and then Bob Greene’s Jelly Roll Morton show in 1974, issued on RCA Victor.  Perhaps eight years ago I had heard him playing piano at Arthur’s Tavern with the Grove Street Stompers.  He asked me to refrain from videoing him, but he was friendly and I did buy his two recent CDs, NEW YORK SURVIVOR and THE STRUGGLE.  Still more recently, a musical friend of his, Inigo Kilborn, had asked me if Ephie was still on the planet.  He is.  At 92, he’s a clear speaker and thinker, although his memory is “sometimes OK, sometimes not too good.”

Ephie and I made a date to talk on the morning of Monday, July 6.  He doesn’t have a computer.  “I live in the last century,” and when I asked if he wanted me to transcribe the interview and send it to him for corrections, he said no.  So this is what he told me of his life, with my minimal editing to tie loose ends together.  It’s not only the usual story of early training, gigs played, musicians encountered, but a deeper human story.  If you’d never heard Ephie play, you’d think he wasn’t all that competent, given his protestations.  I wonder at the gap between the way we perceive ourselves and the way the world does.

With musical examples, I present our conversation to you here.

I began with the most obvious question, “When you were a kid, did you want to be a musician?” and Ephie began his tale.

I come from a family of anger and bitterness and humiliation, and all that stuff, so I was in confusion most of the time.  When I was in first grade, and this is really important, I was born left-handed, and they made me right-handed, so it really did away with my focus.  I got asthma, and I started stuttering soon after that.  So my life was a turmoil. 

And when I was about sixteen, I guess, I hadn’t any idea of doing anything.  I didn’t think I’d be able to do anything.  And I heard a Louis Armstrong recording, and that really made me crazy.  It showed me a way out, the way out of my turmoil.  So when I went to school, they gave me a trombone.  Because the guy said, “I want somebody to play the trombone,” and he pointed at me.  At that point, it was difficult to breathe, it was difficult to talk, and I couldn’t get a sound out of the horn.  And I didn’t understand it until just recently, when I moved to Brooklyn, after I was finished, finally.  I wasn’t breathing.  I couldn’t breathe.

I took the trombone home from school, I tried to play it, and really couldn’t play it much.  But I listened to a lot of records.  I listened to a lot of Louis Armstrong then.  I got as much as I could out of him.  And then I started, for some reason, to go out playing.  In little clubs and things.  I don’t know how I could play — I didn’t practice.  But I played, mostly with black people at the beginning.  And there were two places, especially, where I could play.  A guy named Bob Maltz had a place downtown, all the way downtown.  And across the street a guy named Jack Crystal — there’s a comedian, Billy Crystal, and Jack was his father. [The Stuyvesant Casino and the Central Plaza.]  Both of these guys hired mostly black musicians from the Thirties, and I started out just sitting in, and then I started getting paid.  And that was the beginning of my jazz playing.

And then I made a record [in 1947].  Irv Kratka, the guy who started Music Minus One, was in our little group.  I went into — I forget what it’s called now — it was on Broadway and they had studios and rehearsal studios.  I walked into one and there was Bob Wilber and his little group with Denny Strong on drums.  The trumpet player turned out to be the Local 802 president years after that [John Glasel] but they gave me the names of some guys, and I got together a little group and made a record.  I was just around 17 or 18, I was just playing about a year.  It was OK, it was sort of nice.

Here’s Ephie with Knocky Parker, piano; Irv Kratka, drums, May 1, 1949:

I turned 18, and my mother wanted me to go to a college.  And I thought, I could never do that.  I couldn’t focus.  I couldn’t learn anything.  Whatever I knew, I knew from having read myself or having heard, or something, so I got good marks in English and history.  But anything I had to study and learn something, I couldn’t do it: language or science or something like that.  So with all this, she wanted me to go to a college.  So I applied to Juilliard, and they gave me a date for an audition.  I picked a piece, and I couldn’t play it.  I couldn’t play it at all.  It sat there on my music stand, and once in a while I tried, but I couldn’t do it. 

I should have called them up and told them I couldn’t make the audition, but I went there anyway.  I played the piece perfectly.  That was my life.  Sometimes I played really good, sometimes I played terrible.  Sometimes I played mediocre, but this time I played really good and they clapped me on the back and said, “You’ll go far, young man.”  My teacher was there, Ernest Clarke, Herbert Clarke’s brother.  Herbert Clarke was a trumpet virtuoso.  Ernest Clarke was some sort of a name, I don’t know what he did, but he was well-known there.  He was 83 then.  And he opened up his book when I took my first lesson.  The first page was a row of B-flats.  B-flat with a hold on it, more B-flats and more B-flats.  And I couldn’t play it.  I couldn’t play the note.  He would walk back and forth, his hands behind his back, he couldn’t figure it out.  So I did that for a couple of weeks, I showed up once a week, and then after a while he turned to the second page.  And there were F’s, a little higher but medium-low.  And I couldn’t play that note either.  And then he retired.  I always say that he retired because of me. 

Anyway, whatever it was, while this was happening, I was playing outside.  I was sitting in and playing, going to clubs and stuff.  I played a lot at the beginning with Sol Yaged.  He was a clarinet player who played in the clubs where they used to have jazz and now they had strippers.  So I played for the strippers with Sol Yaged.  I still couldn’t get a sound on my own.  When I was in the house, I couldn’t practice.  I couldn’t play a scale, I couldn’t do anything.  I fell apart.  And I went to a lot of teachers.  Nobody gave me anything.  And when I moved to Brooklyn, I quit playing the trombone when I was here.  I started to figure out, what it was was so simple — I guess I wasn’t breathing.  I was tight.  I never could find an embouchure, except once in a while it happened.  It came in by itself, and when it happened, I could really play well.  But I wasn’t practicing, I couldn’t play a scale, I couldn’t play anything like regular trombone players could.  But I knew that. 

My first year at Juilliard I got a straight A because all they did was ear stuff — ear training — and I was good at that.  And piano playing, and I could do the piano.  And that was it.  The second year, I started getting academic subjects: science, languages and stuff, and I couldn’t do it.  So I stopped going to school.  And years ago, before they fixed up Forty-Second Street, it was a mess, but there was one movie theatre called The Laugh Theatre, and they had, once in a while, regular movies, but usually short subjects, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and all that stuff.  So I was there, and I was laughing.  My life was awful, but I was laughing.  I did that for the rest of my school year, and then I got out of Juilliard.  Finally.  And years later I figured out that, you know, going to school would have depressed me and made me feel really awful, but being away from the school I was laughing.  I felt OK.  Laughing is very good for you.  

Anyway, I don’t know how it was, but I got out of school, and I started working.  I still couldn’t play, I still didn’t practice.  So my first job was with Eddie Heywood.  He was a piano player.  It was an all-black band, at Cafe Society Downtown.  There was also a club, Cafe Society Uptown.  I was there six weeks or so, and then somebody recommended me — I don’t know how it happened — to Buddy Rich.  It’s hard for me to believe.  I played six weeks with Buddy Rich: Zoot Sims and Harry Edison were in the band, I forget the bass player and the piano player.  So I did that, and then I came out, and that was the end of the big band era.  So then I went out, maybe two or three weeks, maybe a weekend, with big bands, but they were beginning to close down.  I played with a lot of them, but the only ones I could remember were Buddy Morrow, Ray McKinley, and Charlie Barnet.  And with these bands, I was the jazz player. 

With Charlie Barnet I also played lead, but I had one solo — that was the audition.  There were about eight trombone players who auditioned for Charlie Barnet, and later on he told me that when he saw me he figured I would be the last guy to get it.  But the audition was a song — I forget the name of it — [Ephie hums ESTRELLITA] — a Spanish song.  It had a trombone solo, there was a high E in the middle or someplace, and I really smacked that thing.  I took a chance, you know, I got it, and I was great.  The other guys played that E, but they played it hesitantly, so I got the job.  And that was great.  I had that one solo, and I played lead, which was great for me, because I learned how to do that.  

Here’s Ephie with Marty Grosz, guitar; Dick Wellstood, piano; Pops Foster, string bass; Tommy Benford, drums; Hugh McKay, cornet; John Dengler, baritone saxophone; Frank Chace, clarinet.  June 6, 1951: comparative listening thanks to “Davey Tough”:

And then I started to work with small bands.  I don’t know how I got this work either. Dixieland bands.  Wild Bill Davison, who was at Condon’s for I guess twelve years, lost that job — they closed down or something — he went on the road and I went with him, and we made a record. Then I played with Buddy Morrow, and I was the jazz player in that band.  He was a great, great trombone player, but a little stiff for my taste.  Then Ray McKinley, and I was the jazz player in that band.  And Bill Davison, we made a record with that.  And then I went with Pee Wee Russell, Ruby Braff was in that, and I forget who else.  And we made a record with him.  So, so far, I made a lot of records.  I got a little bit of a fan club in England because of those records.  And Pee Wee — those records were in Boston, and they recorded a whole night, and they put out four ten-inchers.  And then they made an lp out of it, or two lps.  I don’t imagine any of these things are available now.  That Pee Wee thing, it sold well, I don’t understand how, exactly.  Can’t figure out those things.)

Here’s Ephie in 1952, with Pee Wee Russell, Ruby Braff, Red Richards, John Field, Kenny John — the second part of this presentation (the first offers Johnny Windhurst, Ed Hall, Vic Dickenson, George Wein, John Field, and Jo Jones).  For the impatient among us, Ephie’s portion begins at 16:00:

While I was working, I was still struggling.  I wanted to finally learn how to play.  Since I was working, I might as well learn how to play.  I still couldn’t play a scale without falling apart.  But in context, I could play, somehow.  I saved enough money for a couple of years and went to Philadelphia and studied with a guy named Donald Reinhardt who had a system.  His system was really good, but you had to figure out the system.  He couldn’t, by himself, help you. 

Art DePew, a marvelous trumpet player who played lead with Harry James and a few other bands, went to him and got fixed up.  Kai Winding used to run there once in a while.  He had problems.  His mouthpiece would slip down.  Sometimes he could get it back up, sometimes he couldn’t. 

Reinhardt didn’t teach me anything.  He couldn’t tell you what you were doing wrong or what you should be doing.  He had a book and a system.  He had a lot of people, and they could look at what he had to say and do it.  I couldn’t do that.  I had to be told what I was doing wrong.  And nobody told me I wasn’t breathing.  Lots of times I couldn’t get a sound out.  I had no control over it.  When I played well, it had nothing to do with me. It just happened.  When I played badly, there was no way for me to fix it.  

I spent a couple of years there in Philadelphia, and I met my wife.  She was a singer, a wonderful oratorio singer.  And there was a jazz club over there, and I was playing once a week.  I was playing piano in strip clubs with another guy, a very strange man.  He wore a toupee, but never bought one.  He wore other people’s old toupees; everybody gave him their old toupee.  So he just dropped them on top of his head.  I spent four years there, learned nothing, and still couldn’t figure out what was happening. 

I had to come back to New York, because we got married, and she had a six-and-a half-year old son.  We became friends, and that was really good.  I did various things, and then a contractor called me.  In those days, there was a lot of money around, money flowing freely.  In music, there was a shortage of musicians, and I came in at that point. 

I’ve been lucky all my life, actually. 

I got a job playing in various theatres around the city, short things.  There was a theatre on Sixth Avenue and Forty-Eighth Street, I believe, the contractor liked me, and he had some shows coming to New York.  He said I could pick one, and one of them was HELLO, DOLLY!  I did that for seven years.  Playing a show, especially if you’re a jazz player, is terrible.  You’re doing the same thing all the time.  But I took off a lot.  You could take off as long as you got somebody good, and I always got somebody better than me. 

I worked with Lester Lanin and played all around the world — Ireland, France, Paris, the Philippines.  The guy whose wife had all those shoes [Imelda Marcos], I played their thirtieth anniversary.  We went to Hawaii, to Hong Kong, and then I came back, was home for a couple of weeks.  They started a group in New York, playing different types of music, so I was in that group, and then they had a small group out of that.  I was picked out of that, and we went to Russia — a jazz  group.  We traveled all over the country, and that was really interesting.  That was during the Khruschev era.  When I came back, I continued to do club dates,  but I couldn’t really progress, I couldn’t learn anything.  When I was forty, I still couldn’t play a scale.  I was making my living as a trombone player, and I couldn’t play a scale once up and down without falling apart.

Somebody introduced me to marijuana.  I tried that, and it was wonderful.  Absolutely wonderful.  It saved my life.  The first thing I started to do after I started to smoke was to go downstairs to the basement every morning.  We had small radios, and I hung the radio up, right next to my ear, as loud as I could.  Not music, but talking.  I started to play scales, and it sounded awful, because I couldn’t really hear it.  I did that for a couple of years, and finally I got rid of the radio.  I began a regular practice, for the first time in my life, when I was about forty. 

But by that time I was sort of on the way down, in a way.  And then I did a job with Lester Lanin in London, and I met a guy there — I knew him was I was nineteen or twenty.  He became rich: his father died.  Max, his father, was not too smart, and he couldn’t come to a decision: he didn’t know how to make a decision.  So his father, who was a lawyer but a Mob lawyer, he was powerful with a lot of connections those days, so he put Max on the Supreme Court.  He couldn’t make a decision.  That was his life’s work.  So I met this guy, and stayed at his house for a while, and then I stayed in London and made a record there.  I have two left, of those records.  The other stuff I don’t have any copies of. 

Then I had an accident.  I’m not sure of the timeline now.  I was hit by a car, and broke both my legs and my pelvis.  My ankles were messed up.  I was in the hospital for about three months.  When I came out, I couldn’t really move around, so I didn’t work for a couple of years.  But I was lucky, again, because they just had passed a law in Albany, and if you had an accident, they called it “no fault insurance,” and gave you fifty thousand dollars and services.  So I was in the hospital, and they would send me a check once a month to live on.  So I didn’t work for a couple of years, but I was taken care of.    

I came out, and I wasn’t working very much at all, so I called Marty Grosz.  I knew him from years ago.  We had worked together, in a bar someplace.  Not in New York, someplace else.  I forget where it was.  And I called him, and we made a record.  [THE END OF INNOCENCE.]  And it got a great review from John S. Wilson, the Times music reviewer.  He wrote a really good review of it, not in the paper, but in an international magazine.  So I sold about a thousand records.  People wrote in.  One guy sent it back to me because he didn’t like it.  So I sent him back his ten dollars.  [I complimented Ephie on the record.] Well, thank you.  But I hadn’t worked for three years before that.  Again, I was lucky it came out OK.  [I reminded Ephie that he and Marty had recorded before, in 1951.]  Oh, those records!  Those records were nice!  Those were really good.  I was really happy with those records.  I’d forgotten about that.  I don’t have any of that stuff, but somehow they turned out to be really good.  Frank Chace was nice.  Yes, I liked the way he played.  Years before, Marty and I had a summer job together.  He was just learning how to play and I was learning also.  And I never paid him for that record, THE END OF INNOCENCE.  He did it for nothing.

I will offer THE END OF INNOCENCE — a glorious duet — in a future posting.

I was in England for ten years, and I did a record there.  [Two: NEW YORK SURVIVOR and THE STRUGGLE.]  Well, that was close to the end of my career.  After my accident, I didn’t do too much.  I hung around for a while, and everything got slowed down to nothing.  My wife got sick, she got Parkinson’s.  So I got a job — I was lucky again — working for Catholic Charities, playing piano for Alzheimers people, various venues, different bosses, for almost twelve years.  They just closed down, in March, because of the virus.  So I was lucky, I was working all this time, until right now. 

So now I’m in one room, I’m hiding out, and I’ve got an electronic piano.  I guess you’d say I’m an old-fashioned piano player.  Pretty much old-fashioned, with a couple of things thrown in, contemporary.  And a couple of months ago, in February, before the virus became widely known, I made a record with a trombone player from England, Malcolm Earle Smith.  I hadn’t played in a while.  My playing was — I don’t know how to describe it.  Except on the last two pieces, there I kind of relaxed.  I was careful — I was too careful, so I don’t know about that record.  I have a couple of copies.  Some people liked them, and some people I sent them to didn’t like it at all. 

Ephie at the piano, briefly but evocatively:

[I also mentioned Inigo Kilborn, one of Ephie’s musical colleagues, to him.]  Inigo heard me playing in a club in England, and wanted me to come down.  He was living in Spain then, he went from London to Spain, he was retired.  He wanted me to play in clubs, and I wasn’t working much, I still didn’t have an embouchure, and I still didn’t know how to play.  I put him off and finally he gave up.

One of the people I sent the record to was a guy in Sweden.  He sent me a letter, that he loved the record, and he wanted me to play all over Europe, he had  contacts in clubs all over Europe.  And I couldn’t do it.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it.  Maybe I could play one day or two days, but I’d fall apart.  I fell apart, here and there, when I was playing.  So I didn’t answer him, and he came to New York and then he called me.  He wrote me another letter, and he called me and called me, but I didn’t answer the phone.  That was the end of that.  I couldn’t have done it.  It would have been wonderful for my future, my present, but I couldn’t do it.  So that was that.

Then, little by little, I faded away, until I got this job.  This job saved my life, this piano job.  That’s it.  

So that’s my story up till now.  And here I am.  I’m practicing every day, trying to play a little more contemporary, make the chords closer together.  Not so old-fashioned.  So I’m working on that a little bit, but I’m not working at all now. 

I’m just old.  And that’s my story.

Ephie at the piano, Malcolm Earle Smith, trombone:

[Ephie had delivered almost all of what you read above in a diligent narrative, and I had not wanted to interrupt him, to distract him.  But now, after forty minutes, I thought I could ask some — perhaps idle — questions.  I told Ephie I’d seen him onstage, at Alice Tully Hall in 1974, with Bob Greene’s “The World of Jelly Roll Morton.”]

Oh!  I forgot about that.  That was great.  He played like Jelly Roll Morton, and he started a band, a Jelly Roll Morton band.  We played all those songs, and I could really do that.  I was good at that.  I could really blast out.  The record doesn’t show that, but we traveled all around the country, and we had standing ovations on every job except one.  I don’t know exactly why that one.  But that was easy for me, easy and natural.  It paid well, and it was fun.  Those were happy moments in my life. 

I was with Kai Winding — four trombones.  It was a tour.  We started out someplace — I can’t remember where it was but it was a restaurant.  We were above the eaters, so we couldn’t play too loud, and we were close together.  And for some reason I played just great — just wonderful, all the way along.  and he was talking about making a tour with just the two of us.  The job ended, and we had a three-day layoff, and then went into the Little Mirror, a place in Washington.  There was an echo, we were spread out, it was loud, I lost what I had in that previous gig, I never found it.  I looked for that embouchure for years and years and never got it back.  We made a record with Kai Winding.  I made a lot of records with different people, but that one was OK.  That turned out nice.    

[I asked Ephie if he could tell me about people — heroes of mine — he’d encountered, from the Stuyvesant Casino and Central Plaza, on.]  There was one guy, Jerry Blumberg [a Bunk Johnson protege on cornet and a pianist].  He was wonderful.  He got one job someplace, and hired that famous pianist from the Thirties, James P. Johnson.  I played one night with him.  That was interesting. He was old, but he still played OK.  I never worked with Sid Catlett, but I saw him play.  I played with Frankie Newton a couple of times.  He was fun to play with.  Very easy to play with. 

When I was in Boston, I was with Pee Wee Russell.  He had his own pianist.  It wasn’t Wein, and Red Richards came later.  There was another guy [Teddy Roy] who I didn’t know, but had played with Pee Wee for years and years.  And he had a book, with all the chords in it, which he didn’t need.  Every tune that was called, he’d open up the book.  He never looked at the book, but the chords were there.  He was sort of tied to that.  

Ruby Braff was a fantastic player.  Nobody ever played like him.  He didn’t play like anybody else.  He had phenomenal technique, and he used it in very personal ways.  A wonderful player.  He had his personal problems, like we all do.  Sometimes, we were playing someplace, and he didn’t feel he was playing right, or he wasn’t doing justice to what he was doing, someone would come up to him and say, “Ruby, you sounded wonderful,” he would say, “Aaahhh, what do  you know?” and dismiss it, insult the guy who liked him.  He felt vulnerable all the time, but a great player.  And later on, he played with Benny Goodman.  He couldn’t read, but Benny would put him at the end of the line of trumpets, and once in a while call upon him to play.  He did that for a while.

Did you know Johnny Windhurst?  I did one job with him and Ed Hubble on trombone, and I played piano, and Ed Phyfe on drums.  He was a wonderful player also. 

I didn’t hang out with anybody in Boston.  I wasn’t a hanger-on.  I went right home after the last tune we played.  And I don’t want to hear any of my old stuff.  The only records I have are the ones I made in England, THE STRUGGLE and NEW YORK SURVIVOR.  THE STRUGGLE is a terrible record, but the other one turned out good.   

I played for six-eight months with Roy Eldridge at Jimmy Ryan’s.  He was playing trumpet then — with the mute, not ebullient, but great.  Those records with Dizzy are really wonderful.  At one point, I was on staff with ABC for three years, subbing for one of the jazz guys.  Dick Dreiwitz is such a sweet man, and his wife Barbara, who plays tuba.  For a while I was playing ball games with them — they had a Dixieland band.  Between innings, we’d walk up and down the aisles and play.  People used to throw stuff in the tuba — peanuts, papers, everything — so the tuba players put a pillowcase over the bell.  People aren’t naturally nice, you know.  Some are, some aren’t.  

I’m 92, and I hope I don’t have too many years left.  So far, I’m OK.

At that point, we thanked each other, and I assured Ephie he was safe from me. But in the next few days, the phone rang again, as Ephie remembered some other stories:

Ephie played about six weeks at the Cinderella Club with pianist Bross Townsend and a bassist, not Peck Morrison, whose name he didn’t remember.  He thought that cornetist Hugh McKay played really well on the 1951 Marty Grosz records and wondered what happened to him.  [Does anyone know?]  He saw Vic Dickenson once at some uptown Manhattan gig and thought he was wonderful.  When working in San Francisco with Wild Bill Davison, he found out that Jack Teagarden was playing in Los Angeles and took the bus to see him.  But this was when Jack had quit drinking and Ephie thought he sounded dull.

Another postscript: an extended list of Ephie’s performance credits, which are staggering:

Cab Calloway, Pearl Bailey, Eddie Condon, Roy Eldridge, Bud Freeman, Stan Getz, Woody Herman, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Zoot Sims, Lennie Tristano, Teddy Wilson, Kai Winding and Willie the Lion Smith. He has also played with a variety of rock and pop bands including The Bee Gees, The Four Tops and Englebert Humperdink, and has worked for Danny Kaye, Jack Benny, Woody Allen and Norman Mailer.

Ephie spent much of the 1990s working in London, during a period in his life when he felt trapped in New York. During that stay he met and played with a number of British musicians as well as becoming something of a mentor for many of them. He also played at a number of society parties with the world renowned orchestra headed by veteran bandleader Lester Lanin. The musicians included: Dick Morrissey, Alex Dankworth, Huw Warren, Tim Whitehead, Martin Speake, Mike Pickering, Steve Watts, Julian Siegel, Chris Gibbons, Andrew Jones, Carl Dewhurst, Dave Whitford and Jean-Victor de Boer. He recorded two albums whilst in the UK: New York Survivor and The Struggle (both released on Basho Records)

Although he stopped playing trombone in 2010, Ephie continues to lead an active musical life in back in New York, playing piano in care homes. Still an inspiration to his friends and colleagues, his passion for music is still as strong as it was decades ago.

Taken and adapted from Ephie’s profile page at Jazzcds.co.uk

Blessings and thanks to Ephie, to Dick Dreiwitz, to Inigo Kilborn, to Malcolm Earle Smith, who made this informal memoir of a fascinating man and musician possible.

May your happiness increase!

MARTY GROSZ, NOW AND THEN (March 4, 2020; June 6, 1951), and a POSTSCRIPT

Marty Grosz and Joe Plowman, Philadelphia, June 2020.

Before the world we knew or thought we knew morphed terribly into the appalling shapes it is now in* — and you can add details as you like — Marty Grosz had a ninetieth-birthday party in his hometown of some years, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  I had the good fortune to be there, and documented the joyous proceedings here and here.

In my borough or perhaps burrow, it is only polite to inquire, “Will you have another?” so I offer just that.

At his party, where he gave us presents, Marty picks up “the riverboat violin” for the venerable WABASH BLUES — alongside Vince Giordano, tuba; Jack Saint Clair, Dan Block, Scott Robinson, reeds; Randy Reinhart, trombone; Jim Lawlor, drums; Danny Tobias, trumpet. The impatient among you — and you, along with the Corrections Officers and the Disapprovers, seem to proliferate — should be warned that Marty, as he is wont to do, tells a tale before the music starts at 7:50. Myself, I think Marty-narratives are valuable (have you read his autobiography, IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE: MY LIFE IN JAZZ, published by Golden Valley Press?) and the music that follows is of course also. This burst  of joy took place at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia on March 4, 2020.

The official JAZZ LIVES copy of one of the two discs. Peruse and admire.

Marty would call his first official recordings — two 78 discs recorded for the Jolly Roger label (2003 and 2004) “prentice work” at best . . . but they are jubilant explosions of youthful ardor, by Hugh McKay, trumpet; Ephie Resnick, trombone; Frank Chace, clarinet; Dick Wellstood, piano; Pops Foster, string bass; Tommy Benford, drums.

And here are the four performances, thanks to archive.org.

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU

SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE (here, “WOBBLE”)

DIXIELAND JASS BAND ONE-STEP

OH, BABY

And a note about the asterisk above — for those who read what I write, and thank you for doing so.  I have not felt much like blogging in the past few days: it seems trivial and even disrespectful to the people who suffer, who die and have died, to people who would like to breathe but find they are not permitted to, my peaceful friends who find themselves facing violence while bringing none, to post uplifting jazz music.

I won’t make any pompous claims about jazz being a bringer of peaceful relations.  It hasn’t always been so, either for musicians or listeners.  But I feel an obligation to spread joy in deep darkness, perhaps to remind ourselves that the human spirit is capable of acts that are generous and kind.  I hope you feel this too.

And if my “politics” offend you, if you applaud what is happening in your neighborhood, if you think the current regime is the best there ever was, if you praise a deceased musician of color but recoil from an actual person of the same hue taking a walk, please feel encouraged to cancel your subscription to JAZZ LIVES and find another source for music.  Kindly hold the door so it doesn’t slam, here and on Facebook. I will live through your defection.  And so will the music.

May your happiness increase!

THE GLORIES OF WALTER DONALDSON: JONATHAN DOYLE – JACOB ZIMMERMAN SEXTET at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: KRIS TOKARSKI, KATIE CAVERA, CHARLIE HALLORAN, HAL SMITH, BRANDON AU (May 12, 2019)

Few people would recognize the portrait on its own.

But Walter Donaldson (1893-1947) wrote songs that everyone knows (or perhaps, in our collective amnesia, once knew): MY BLUE HEAVEN; LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME; AT SUNDOWN; YES SIR, THAT’S MY BABY; HOW YA GONNA KEEP THEM DOWN ON THE FARM?; MAKIN’ WHOOPEE; CAROLINA IN THE MORNING; LITTLE WHITE LIES; MY BABY JUST CARES FOR ME; WHAT CAN I SAY AFTER I SAY I’M SORRY; YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY, and many more — six hundred songs and counting.  Ironically, the man who created so much of the American vernacular in song is little-chronicled, and if Wikipedia is to be believed, he is buried in an unmarked grave in Brooklyn.  So much for Gloria Mundi.

On May 12, 2019,  Jonathan Doyle (here playing bass saxophone) and Jacob Zimmerman (clarinet and alto saxophone) created a  wonderful exploration of Donaldson’s less-known and often completely unknown compositions for the Redwood Coast Music Festival.  Joining them were Kris Tokarski (piano); Katie Cavera (guitar); Charlie Halloran (trombone); Hal Smith (drums).  Charlie had to rush off to another set, so Brandon Au takes his place for the final number, JUST THE SAME.  There are some small interferences in these videos: lighting that keeps changing, dancers mysteriously magnetized by my camera, yet oblivious to it (a neat trick) but the music comes through bigger-than-life.

Ordinarily, I parcel out long sets in two segments, but I was having such fun reviewing these performances that I thought it would be cruel to make you all wait for Part Two.  So here are ten, count them, Donaldson beauties — and please listen closely to the sweetness and propulsion this ad hoc ensemble gets, as well as the distinctive tonalities of each of the players — subtle alchemists all.  At points, I thought of a Twenties tea-dance ensemble, sweetly wooing the listeners and dancers; at other times, a stellar hot group circa 1929, recording for OKeh.  The unusual instrumentation is a delight, and the combination of Donaldson’s unerring ear for melodies and what these soloists do with “new” “old” material is, for me, a rare joy.  In an ideal world, this group, playing rare music, would be “Live from Lincoln Center” or at least issuing a two-CD set.  We can hope.

LITTLE WHITE LIES, still a classic mixing swing and romantic betrayal:

DID I REMEMBER? — possibly best-remembered for Billie’s 1936 recording:

SWEET JENNIE LEE! which, for me, summons up a Hit of the Week paper disc and a Frank Chace home jam session:

MAYBE IT’S THE MOON — so pretty and surprisingly unrecorded:

YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO TELL ME (I KNEW IT ALL THE TIME) — in my mind’s ear, I hear Jackson T. singing this:

SOMEBODY LIKE YOU, again, surprisingly unacknowledged:

CLOUDS, recorded by the Quintette of the Hot Club of France:

TIRED OF ME, a very touching waltz:

REACHING FOR SOMEONE (AND NOT FINDING ANYONE THERE), which enjoyed some fame because of Bix, Tram, and Bing:

JUST THE SAME, which I went away humming:

Thoroughly satisfying and intriguing as well.

I dream of the musical surprises that will happen at the 2020 Redwood Coast Music Festival (May 7-10, 2020).  With over a hundred sets of music spread out over four days and on eight stages, I feel comfortable saying there will be delightful surprises.  Their Facebook page is here, too.

May your happiness increase!

HAL SMITH’S SWING CENTRAL AT THE REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL, PART TWO: HAL SMITH, STEVE PIKAL, DAN WALTON, JAMEY CUMMINS, JONATHAN DOYLE (May 11, 2019)

Hal Smith swings:

and his bands do also:

 

 

Hal Smith’s SWING CENTRAL is a splendid little band, greeted enthusiastically in person and in cyberspace, which will become evident in sixty-four bars.  (The lovely weird artwork below is the cover of their debut CD, by the way.)

Here’s Part One, where you can savor LITTLE GIRL; LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER; HELLO, FISHIES; BATS ON A BRIDGE; BIG AL; PIPELINER’S BLUES; WINDY CITY SWING; HELLO, LOLA.

And the second portion, beginning with LONG-DISTANCE MAN, which has a beautiful story behind it even before the deeply lyrical music begins — for me a highlight of the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival:

Dan Walton’s exuberant ROLL ‘EM, PETE:

Jamey Cummins’ THE SHEIK OF airbnb:

The poignant BLUE LESTER:

And a rollicking THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU:

Truly a band to know and to follow.  On a related note — in a major key — the 30th Anniversary Redwood Coast Music Festival will take place in Eureka, California, from May 7-10, 2020.  I’ll be there, and Hal and many of my hero-friends also.

May your happiness increase!

UP IN THE CLOUDS (Part One): The JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET at THE REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: JONATHAN DOYLE, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, CHARLIE HALLORAN, KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMEY CUMMINS, STEVE PIKAL, HAL SMITH (May 11, 2019)

Jonathan Doyle, 2015

 

It’s lovely to have heroes, and the man in the photograph is one of mine.  The only problem with the photograph is that it’s a still picture, and he is rarely still, but the videos below will remedy that.

When I was fortunate enough to chat with clarinetist Frank Chace on the telephone (now more than twenty years ago), he remembered that he and Marty Grosz had listened, rapt, over and over, to Pee Wee Russell’s solo on SWEET SUE with the Muggsy Spanier Ragtimers on Commodore. Marty’s comment was, “Well, if that doesn’t scrape the clouds . . . !” which is as good a summation of what artistic bliss feels like.

Those words kept coming back to me all through my weekend immersion in joy at the Redwood Coast Music Festival: I listened, quite amazed, at the wonderful music I was privileged to hear.  I’m still in a state of blissful amazement: feelings shared by those around me.

One of the reasons for this unearthly happiness has to do with reedman / composer / arranger / imaginative-phenomenon Jonathan Doyle, a rare source of  renewable energy in our time. Here ‘s where you can find him on Facebook as well.  Spiritual electricities course through him without harming him or us, and they come out as the most beautiful surprising patterns of notes, tones, and rests.  He never coasts; he never parodies anyone or himself.

Jonathan was a stimulating presence all through the weekend: with Charlie Halloran’s Calypsonians, leading several sets of his own and with Jacob Zimmerman (one a Walter Donaldson tribute with Doyle on bass sax), as lead horn in Hal Smith’s Swing Central, with the extravagant Western Swing Party co-led by Hal and Dave Stuckey.  (He was also one-third of the double tribute to composer-players Gordon Au and Josh Collazo, but by that time I had collapsed as if I’d been made of damp cardboard.  I’ll do better next year, I hope.)

Here are four uplifting performances from the first set of Jonathan’s Swingtet, a glorious affair consisting of Doyle, Jacob Zimmerman, alto; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Kris Tokarski, piano; Steve Pikal, string bass; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Hal Smith, drums.

BLUE DRAG (a nod to 1934 Django):

CHICAGO (he’ll show you around!):

THE FED HOP (Jonathan’s irresistible original):

DICKIE’S DREAM (Basie 1939, anyone?  Because of sudden battery demise, I lost the first ensemble chorus and Charlie Halloran’s delicious solo, but what remains is very satisfying):

When you’re through admiring the solo work and the overall joyous bounce of these four performances, I urge you to listen again to Jonathan’s arrangements, their sweet surprises, their dynamics and voicings.  He’s not just a great player and composer: he’s a wonderful orchestral visionary who makes his dreams and ours come true in swing.

More to come from my hero JD and his friends.

May your happiness increase! 

AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS (November 25, 2018): ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, PAUL ASARO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, DAVE BOCK

I must write at the start that I had thought of titling this post YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP, but decided to direct readers in a slightly different direction.

The relations between artists performing in public and their audience are often strange, especially at live jazz events.  The ideal audience (to me) sits rapt and attentive, but this austere ideal is not shared by everyone.  Often, the members of the audience renew old acquaintance throughout a performance — listening, if at all, marginally — and then shout WOOHOO! at the end.  Or they applaud in the middle of performances, which is, I assume, to be encouraged as a show of gratitude, but hearing people applaud when two instrumentalists are “trading fours” — after each solo utterance — goes beyond praise.

Someone once suggested the rather bleak theory that audience members couldn’t stand suppressing their egos for long, so they had to respond because they, too, wanted to be heard.  If anyone’s now tempted to write in and characterize me as a killjoy, I will only say that to me music is holy and even the hottest band’s outchoruses should be appreciated in ways that allow everyone to hear the music.

All of this is preface to a performance, captured on video, by the Chicago Cellar Boys at the San Diego Jazz Fest just a few days ago.  The Cellar Boys (their name a homage to sessions featuring Frank Teschemacher, Frank Melrose, Wingy Mannone, and Bud Freeman; later, Marty Grosz (a/k/a “Mart ‘Beef’ Gross”), Frank Chace, Dick Wellstood, and Pops Foster.  These Cellar Boys are a band-within-the-band of the Fat Babies, comprised of Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, tenor; John Otto, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Dave Bock, tuba; Johnny Donatowicz, guitar, banjo.  Here is the penultimate song they performed at their last set, on November 25, 2018.

PLEASE watch and listen attentively to the very end:

I don’t know how to account for that audience member’s ejaculation. Was it simply reflex?  “Oh my goodness, the music is going to end!  We can’t have that happen!” Or was it the punchline to the joke — a bit of comedy?  I don’t know.  But I am so glad I let my camera run.

And, as a postscript, I found the CCB entrancing, so I recorded many performances at the San Diego Jazz Fest.  They satisfy.

May your happiness increase!

THE WAY IT SHOULD BE DONE: A NEW BOOK BY DEREK COLLER and BERT WHYATT

Before you read another word: if you know the remarkable work of Derek Coller and the late Bert Whyatt, you can skip to the bottom for details on how to buy it: you won’t need me to convince you of its worth.

Full disclosure, for those who like FD: I corresponded with Bert and exchanged information and tapes for the Bobby Hackett book he and George Hulme did, and I am mentioned in this new book as a source pertaining to Frank Chace.

Now for larger matters: when I pick up a book purporting to be on jazz, I value clear presentation of information, at best first-hand narrative or close informed analysis, any ideological basis (if there must be one) aboveboard.  I should come away from any reading feeling that I know many new things or have been given new ways of perceiving what I know.

Here’s what repels me (details omitted to avoid legal action):

During the twentieth century, jazz was at the center of multiple debates about social life and American experience. Jazz music and its performers were framed in both positive and negative manners. The autobiographies of _____ musicians _____ and ______ provide insight into the general frames they used to frame jazz experience and agency sometimes at odds with dominant discourses. Through Michel Foucault’s notion of ethical substance, I analyze the way in which jazz is constructed in their autobiographies. Several themes are used by both autobiographers to frame their actions, which are constructed in a complex and ambivalent manner revealing both the ethics of jazz and its covert culture.

A long pause.  Happily, I can leave Foucault to his own devices, and enthusiastically recommend CHICAGO JAZZ: THE SECOND LINE, the opposite of the miasma in italics.  And, for the curious, the picture above is of Sig Meyer and his Druids, c. 1924 — including Volly De Faut, Arnold Loyacano, Marvin Saxbe, and Muggsy Spanier.  In itself, that photograph says everything you might need to know about the depth of research in this book.

Coller and Whyatt come from the old school of scholars — note I don’t write “critics” — who believe that the stories musicians tell about themselves and others are more worthy than what listeners believe they hear.  This is a collection of articles — essays, portraits, studies — by both authors, published in Storyville, The Mississippi Rag, the IAJRC Journal, Jazz Journal, and as liner notes — between 1983 and 2016.

For once, I will quote the publisher’s copy, because it is so apt:

When Derek Coller decided to pay tribute to his late friend – the author, biographer, discographer and researcher, Bert Whyatt – he looked for a common theme under which to group some of the articles they had written together over the years. He found it in Chicago where their research activities had gravitated towards the style of music created by the young white musicians from that city and its environs – particularly those who rallied around the figurehead of Eddie Condon – as they listened to and learned from the pioneer black stylists, many of them the greatest jazz players to emigrate from New Orleans, including King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Johnny and Baby Dodds and Jimmy Noone. Two trips to the USA, made by the authors in 1979 and 1992, led to meetings and correspondence with some of the musicians in this compilation, and to learning about many others. There are connections between most of these articles, interviews and notes, with an over-lapping of jobs, leaders and clubs. Some of the stories are about pioneers: Elmer Schoebel, Jack Pettis and Frank Snyder, for example, were in the New Orleans Rhythm Kings in 1923. Trombonist George Brunis, chronicled here, was also a member of that band, though his long career – during which he played with Muggsy Spanier, as did Rod Cless and George Zack, in the Spanier Ragtime Band of ‘Great Sixteen’ fame – has been more widely documented. Floyd Bean and Tut Soper, here too, were also Spanier alumni. The articles originally appeared variously under a dual by-line, or by either Whyatt or Coller, but always with consultation and discussion prior to publication. Here they become a lively mix of the voices of the authors as well as the musicians and their families, building a story through biography, reviews and discography. The book is illustrated with evocative black and white photographs and images, and there is an Index of names and places to help the reader keep track of the musicians, composers, producers, promoters and writers who created this part of the history of jazz.

“A lively mix” is an understatement. First off, the book is full of wonderful anecdotage, primarily by the musicians themselves.  And it helps to explicate Chicago — which is often legendary but certainly under-documented — as its own world of jazz, where one could encounter Jimmy Yancey, Brownie McGhee, Bud Jacobson, Brad Gowans, Wild Bill Davison, Art Hodes — see the 1949 photo facing the table of contents.

For me, the complete and absorbing charm of the book and the research under it is in the focus on those musicians whom I’ve known as names on record labels or in discographies.  Yes, there is coverage of Muggsy Spanier and George Brunis (the first already the subject of a fine biography by — no surprise — Bert), but the other portraits are welcome because the musicians depicted never got the attention during or after their lifetimes.  I will simply list them: Jack Pettis, Frank Snyder, Elmer Schoebel, Rod Cless, George Snurpus, Maurice Bercov, Floyd O’Brien, Oro “Tut” Soper, Floyd Town, Johnny Lane, George Zack, Jack Gardner, Chet Roble, Floyd Bean, Bill Reinhardt and his club Jazz Ltd., Dan Lipscomb, Frank Chace, Jimmy Ille, Art Jenkins, Doc Cenardo, Freddy Greenleaf, and Paul Jordan.

And that is surely not all.  Photographs new to me, of course.  And when I open the book at random, gems leap out: on page 202, pianist Tut Soper describes Chicago as “the center of gravity as far as jazz is concerned.”  On page 63, we are in trombonist Floyd O’Brien’s datebook for 1928, describing gigs and who was in the band.  On page 227, jazz writer Larry Kart recalls hearing (and recording) clarinetist Frank Chace and pianist Bob Wright playing Coltrane’s LAZY BIRD and Tadd Dameron’s IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW.

I mentioned anecdotage earlier in this post, and will add a few excerpts from string bassist Harlow Atwood (201-2), talking of clarinetist / clubowner Bill Reinhardt and early rehearsals (Fall 1932) for Charlie Barnet’s first big band:

(. . . Charlie then was a 17 years-old pothead fugitive from Moses Brown Prep in Providence, R.I.) which boasted the legendary Jack Purvis on trumpet and Scoops Thompson (he sold drugs by the scoopful!) on guitar.  The two wildest dudes I ever met in the business.  That band, by the way, opened the brand-new Paramount Hotel, owned by Charlie’s family, on New Year’s Eve of ’32-’33 and lasted exactly one set.  Barnet’s mother, shocked to her socks by Purvis’ romping charts, fired Charlie herself.  I was sitting at Charlie’s table and heard the conversation.  

And, later, Atwood’s memories of valve-trombonist Frank Orchard (memorable for appearances on Commodore Records — I also saw him at Jimmy Ryan’s in the Seventies) who also acted as M.C., played piano, guitar, and sang — and who installed “a 2 1/2 times life-sized photo of himself at the club’s street entrance”:

The sets were pure Mack Sennett.  Frank would tinkle a piano intro, then switch to rhythm guitar for the opening chorus, grab his guitar and up to the mike to sing / play a chorus, then do the sock chorus on trombone lead and finally sprint back to the piano for the ending.  Plus, of course, introductory blather.

That’s purest jazz catnip to me, and I hope to you also.

If you’d told me a few years ago that I would hold a book with a detailed portrait of the pianist Jack Gardner in it, or a reference to tenorist Joe Masek, I would have thought that impossible.  And I have taken so long to review this book because of its irresistible nature.  When I received it in the mail, I left it visible in my apartment, and when I passed by it, I would stop to read a few pages: its distracting force was just that powerful.  I apologize to Derek and to the shade of Bert for being so tardy, but if you are in the least curious about Chicago jazz — from the teens to the Seventies — you will find CHICAGO JAZZ: THE SECOND LINE fascinating, quotable, and invaluable. I wish there were a bookshelf of volumes of equal merit.

Buy a copy here or here .  Alas, the book doesn’t come with a I BRAKE FOR SIG MEYERS AND HIS DRUIDS bumper sticker or a multi-volume CD set of previously unheard live sessions recorded by John Steiner, but we will make do with this lovely collection.

May your happiness increase!

I CALL ON KIM CUSACK (Part Two): MARCH 27, 2018

Here is the first part of the video interviews I did with the Esteemed Mister Cusack — a great deal of fun, good anecdotes, well-told, and new information about everyone from George Brunis to Phyllis Diller: a great honor and pleasure for me.  Here’s the second part.

The first six segments were moderately autobiographical, but Kim doesn’t revel in himself as the only subject.  So in the videos you will see below, my request had been for Kim to talk of people he’d encountered and played with whom we might otherwise not have known, although some of the players are well-known to those who relish the music: Barrett Deems, James Dapogny, Truck Parham, Little Brother Montgomery.  Good stories, seriously rewarding insights not only into people but also into “the business,” including the Chicago underworld.

I’ll let the videos speak for themselves, as Kim does so well.

Norm Murphy and Frank Chace:

Art Gronwald and Little Brother Montgomery (this is for Ethan Leinwand):

Bobby Ballard, Bob Skiver, Floyd Bean:

Smokey Stover and Truck Parham:

Bob Cousins, Wayne Jones, Barrett Deems:

and finally for that afternoon, Kim’s portrait of our hero Jim Dapogny:

I  hope to visit Delavan, Wisconsin, again — to delight in the company of Kim and Ailene Cusack and Lacey, too.  And who knows what treasures I might bring back for you?

May your happiness increase!

I CALL ON KIM CUSACK (Part One): MARCH 27, 2018

Paul Asaro, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet

I admire the reedman and occasional vocalist Kim Cusack immensely and had done so through recordings for a long time before we met in person.  When we exchanged courtesies and compliments at a California festival — perhaps the San Diego Jazz Fest in 2011? — I was thrilled by his music as it was created on the spot, and I liked the man holding the clarinet a great deal.

A hero-worshiper, I found occasions to stand at the edge of a small circle when Kim was telling a story.  And what he had to tell us was plenty.  He never tells jokes but he’s hilarious with a polished deadpan delivery and the eye for detail of a great writer.

I had said to another hero, Marc Caparone, “I wish I could get Kim to sit for a video interview,” and Marc — ever the pragmatist — said, “Ask him!” I did, and the result was a visit to Kim and the endearing Ailene Cusack (she’s camera-shy but has her own stories) in their Wisconsin nest.

The results are a dozen vignettes: illuminating, sharply observed, and genuine.  Kim’s stories are about the lively, sometimes eccentric people he knows and has known.  I am honored to have had the opportunity, and I hope you enjoy the videos.  I know I did and do.

I’ve prefaced each video with a very brief sketch of what it contains.

Early days, going back to fifth grade, and early influences, including Spike Jones, moving up to high school and a paying gig, with side-glances at rock ‘n’ roll and the Salty Dogs:

From Career Day at Kim’s high school to early adulthood, and a seven-year stint teaching, with Eddy Davis, Darnell Howard, Mike Walbridge, James Dapogny, the Chicago Stompers, the Salty Dogs, Frank Chace, Marty Grosz, Lew Green, Wayne Jones, and the saga of Paul’s Roast Round:

From the Chicago Stompers and union conflicts to Art Hodes and Ted Butterman and Wayne Jones to Kim’s secret career as a piano player . . . and the elusive piano recording, and a mention of Davey Jones of Empirical Records:

Kim’s portraits of distinctive personalities Ted Butterman, Bob Sundstrom, Little Brother Montgomery, Booker T. Washington, Rail Wilson, Peter Nygaard, Phyllis Diller and her husband “Fang,” the Salty Dogs, Eddy Davis, George Brunis, Stepin Fetchit and OL’ MAN RIVER in Ab. Work with Gene Mayl and “Jack the Bear” on trumpet. And Barrett Deems!  (More Deems stories to come.)

More portraits, including Gene Mayl, Monte Mountjoy, Gus Johnson, the legendary George Brunis, Nappy Trottier, who “could really play,” Wild Bill Davison, Johnson McRee. And a playing trip to Alaska for three weeks with Donny McDonald and later Ernie Carson:

Scary airplane trips with the Gene Mayl band over Alaska, and a glance at the splendid pianist John Ulrich, a happy tourist:

I have six more vignettes to share, with memories of Norm Murphy, Frank Chace, Barrett Deems, Bob Skiver, Little Brother Montgomery, and more.  My gratitude to Kim and Ailene Cusack, for making this pilgrimage not only possible but sweet, rewarding fun.

May your happiness increase!

A MEETING OF KINDRED SOULS: KRIS TOKARSKI, HAL SMITH, JONATHAN DOYLE, LARRY SCALA, NOBU OZAKI at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 24, 2017)

Kris Tokarski, piano; Larry Scala, guitar; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Hal Smith, drums; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet / tenor sax, with guest Katie Cavera, guitar and vocals. San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 2017

In the words of Sammy Cahn, “I fall in love too easily,” but not when the Love Object is a great artist or a collection of them.  There my devotion rarely plays me false.  This band, led by the quiet virtuoso Kris Tokarski, gave extraordinary pleasure at the November 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest.  I followed them happily and recorded (I think) five hour-long sets of the six they played.  Glowing music: heartfelt but beautifully expertly executed.  Somewhere Milt Gabler, Alfred Lion, and John Hammond are happily in the groove with all of us.  Here are the six posts I have already offered of the band’s great joyous surge — with guests Katie Cavera, Marc Caparone, and Dawn Lambeth: one and two and three and four and five and six.  (I did all that annoying hypertexting because I love my readers and I don’t want you stumbling around in the dark reaches of cyberspace.  Enjoy yourselves!)

Here are four brilliant performances from the band’s very first set at San Diego.  The first is a Jonathan Doyle original from 2016, called BATS ON A BRIDGE, dedicated to an Austin, Texas nature phenomenon, described here.  Jonathan has, to me, no peer at creating winding, clever witty lines based on the harmonies of “jazz standards,” and sometimes his lines are so irresistible on their own that I’ve found it hard to dig beneath to find the familiar harmonies. I’ll help you out here: the title of the song is exactly what Bithiah, otherwise known as Pharoah’s daughter, exclaimed when she saw the infant Moses in the bulrushes:

Next, a rarity at “trad” festivals, a purring reading of a ballad: in this case, YOU GO TO MY HEAD, which I believe Jonathan knew but had never performed in public.  Isn’t he marvelous?

Another Doyle original, from 2017, LONG DISTANCE MAN, whose source we get from the wise and observant Larry Kart — a story of the clarinetist Frank Chace’s meeting with Lester Young: [Chace] also told a very “Frank” story about his encounter with Lester Young in 1957 in Pres’s hotel room in (I think) Indianapolis, where Frank was playing at a club and Pres was in town with a non-JATP package tour. The drummer in the band Frank was part of, Buddy Smith, suggested that they pay Pres a visit after the gig, and when they got there, Frank (“I’m shy,” he said), hung back while the other guys gathered around Pres. Having noticed this bit of behavior, Pres beckoned Frank to come closer, addressing him softly as “long-distance man.” Probably a meeting of kindred souls.

The “kindred souls” create one of the finest blues performances I’ve heard in this century, beginning with Jonathan’s barks — part schnauzer, part Henry “Red” Allen, part walrus.  The only complaint I have here is that I wish the band had jettisoned the set list and just kept playing this, just kept on exploring the infinite spaces between the three chords, the tonalities, the steady swing:

As a set closer, the down-home classic, BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA:

You’ll notice I’ve avoided the game of Sounding Like (all praise to the late Barbara Lea for putting it so pungently): I hear murmurs from the admiring ghosts of Sidney Catlett, Walter Page, Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Charlie Christian, Lester Young, Frank Chace, Omer Simeon, Pee Wee Russell, Eddie Miller, Bud Freeman, Ike Quebec and others I haven’t named.  But they are quietly present.  The real and the truly brilliant voices I hear come from Tokarski, Doyle, Scala, Ozaki, and Smith.  And what glorious music they make. There will be more to come.

Festival promoters and concert bookers looking for noise and flash, circus acts and Vegas Dixieland, pass this band by with my blessings.  People who want to give genuine jazz and swing a venue [think of the San Diego Jazz Fest!], consider these heroes.

May your happiness increase! 

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS, CONTINUED (July 8, 2017)

Our good fortune continues.  “Tell us a story, Dan?” we ask, and he kindly obliges.  And his stories have the virtue of being candid, genuine, and they are never to show himself off.  A rare fellow, that Mister Morgenstern is.

Here are a few more segments from my July 2017 interlude with Dan. In the first, he recalls the great clarinetist, improviser, and man Frank Chace, with glances at Bob Wright, Wayne Jones, Harriet Choice, Bill Priestley, Pee Wee Russell, Mary Russell, Nick’s, Louis Prima, Wild Bill Davison, Art Hodes, Frank Teschemacher, Eddie Condon, and Zutty Singleton:

Here, Dan speaks of Nat Hentoff, Martin Williams, Whitney Balliett, Charles Edward Smith — with stories about George Wein, Stan Getz, Art Tatum, Sidney Bechet:

and a little more, about “jazz critics,” including Larry Kart, Stanley Dance, Helen Oakley Dance, and a little loving comment about Bunny Berigan:

If the creeks don’t rise, Dan and I will meet again this month.  And this time I hope we will get to talk of Cecil Scott and other luminaries, memorable in their own ways.

May your happiness increase!

HAL SMITH’S “SWING CENTRAL” GETS IT: BIX FEST (August 3, 2017)

Even though it’s been in existence only a short time, SWING CENTRAL, the beloved brain-and-heart child of drummer and inspiration man Hal Smith, is one of my favorite bands. Here is what I wrote about it on the occasion of its debut CD, whose nifty cover is pictured below. 

I was not able to make it to hear / see / video SWING CENTRAL at the BixFest, but fortunately “jazzmanjoe” caught a set, with nice sound.

The members of this compact swinging ensemble are Jonathan Doyle, clarinet; Dan Walton, piano / vocals; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass; Hal Smith, drums / leader.  In this set, they play WAY DOWN IN NEW ORLEANS; DON’T LEAVE ME, DADDY; CHINA BOY; SWEET IS THE NIGHT; WHOLLY CATS; I WANT A LITTLE GIRL; BEAT ME, DADDY, EIGHT TO THE BAR; LESTER LEAPS IN.

A few words about the band and its delightful repertoire, or maybe more than a few.  From the top, borrowing Eddie Durham’s words about Ed Hall, “Hal Smith doesn’t know how to not swing,” which means to me that his beat is irrresistible. If you put on a CD (or “record”) in another room that started with eight bars of Hal’s hi-hat, I would a) know who it was before the passage was over; b) be smiling; c) put down whatever I was doing in the other room to come closer to the speaker to soak in the swing.  Hal also has a capacious imagination: he can most effectively put together a band devoted to Kid Ory, or the Watters-Scobey-Murphy world, but he really likes supercharged small groups that float and fly, and he’s got a long list of such groups with many wonderful recordings.  As he says on the video, he was moved to create SWING CENTRAL as a band that could play “Chicago style,” but was earnestly connected to the delicate heartfelt traceries of clarinetists Lester Young, Pee Wee Russell, Frank Chace, among others: which leads me to the bold statement that (aside from the one evocation of Charlie Christian on this set) NO OTHER BAND SOUNDS LIKE THIS.

Festival promoters, please take note.  SWING CENTRAL is the doctor-tested remedy for audiences shrinking because of dulling sameness.

A long pause for calm.

Pianist Dan Walton is a hidden gem.  Like the rest of this band, he never plays a formulaic or dull note or phrase.  He’s absorbed all the great styles and recordings, but — thank heavens — he isn’t on the planet to play them note-for-note unless requested.  His solo work is quiet but it rings in the mind; his ensemble playing is just the thing, and his boogie-woogie sounds real.  I’d like to hear a Dan Walton solo or duo CD, and hope that this idea can be realized soon.

Jamey Cummins.  In a landscape of guitarists who sound fraternally similar, young Mister J.C. stands out as a gifted inventor of long spinning lines, someone whose rhythm playing rocks.  He plays himself, and that’s a wonderful thing.

I got to meet the ebullient Steve Pikal on my recent Nashville trip, and he’s a wonderful creation: you can’t tell where he stops and where the music begins, or, put it this way, his unwavering good humor, expressed in a nearly perpetual smile, comes right through his string bass.  He loves Walter Page and Pops Foster and Milt Hinton and all the propulsive people in the great tradition, and you hear his love.

Jon Doyle is a great poet who might never have written a sonnet, but each chorus is a new effusion, whether tender or searing-hot.  He’s captured the whimsical souls of the musicians he admires, but what comes out of the end of that stick of grenadilla wood is entirely Doyle.  He’s not copying Lester, Pee Wee, or Frank; he is showing himself as someone who understands their beauties and has taken from them new ways to be himself.

You’ll notice that the tunes in this set (and when you buy the CD, the same applies) are often familiar — think of WAY DOWN YONDER and CHINA BOY (the latter more often mentioned than played) are in some hands “Dixieland classics,” but here they are springboards for elegant new improvisations.  But something remarkable: other bands can play Hot, and often at a higher volume, but SWING CENTRAL has its own special tenderness: not only Jon playing a ballad, but the subtle textures of the rhythm section, of Hal’s brushwork — of a band that knows that power isn’t volume, that the way to make an audience feel is not necessarily to whack it over the head in performance after performance. A quintet of swing poets, inspired by Milt Gabler and other lights in the darkness. May they prosper.

We’re so lucky that Hal had this idea, and that he and his friends made it happen.

May your happiness increase!

HAL SMITH’S SWING CENTRAL: “WINDY CITY SWING” (JON DOYLE, JAMEY CUMMINS, DAN WALTON, STEVE PIKAL, HAL SMITH and JOSHUA HOAG)

Hal Smith is someone whose music I’ve admired long before I was able to meet him and hear the magic he works from a front-row seat.  Dogs bark; cats meow; Hal swings, and I’ve never known him to fail.  Better than CPR.

Put it another way: I’ve had a driver’s license for decades, and am thus less comfortable in the passenger seat.  When I hear a performance with Hal at the drums, I can relax — the same way I do when Jo or Sidney or Wettling or Tough is in control: I know everything’s going to be all right.

A new CD with Hal is always a pleasure; the debut recording of a new Hal Smith band is an event, one to be celebrated.  SWING CENTRAL lives up to its title, and there’s more at work here than a) a quintet playing a swing repertoire and b) that the musicians all live in the Central time zone.

Those musicians — exuberant and focused at the same time are, besides Hal — Jonathan Doyle on clarinet; Dan Walton, piano; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass, and appearing on one track, Joshua Hoag, also on bass.

What makes this clarinet-plus rhythm group different and thus a treasure is vividly apparent from the first notes of the first track.  For one thing, SWING CENTRAL is aware that there is music not played by Benny Goodman.  Heresy to some, I know, and I treasure my Goodman records as much as anyone, but this band and this disc go another way. And that way is the endearingly individualistic way mapped out by Lester Young, Pee Wee Russell, Frank Chace, and Charlie Christian.  SWING CENTRAL is a hot band, but not an exhibitionistic one: on this CD or in performance, you won’t hear a ten-minute version of SEVEN COME ELEVEN that’s capped with a drum solo.  Hearing the disc again, I thought, “This band is playing for the music, not for the audience,” which is a beautiful and rare thing.  And the musicians know the records, but have absorbed them into their cell memory, so that they can play themselves, which is the only way to honor the innovators.  “Feelin’ the spirit,” as they used to say.

 

Now that you’ve gotten over the pleasant shock of the remarkable cover art by JP Ardee Navarro, hear and see the band in performance (Austin’s Central Market, 2016) for yourself:

LITTLE GIRL:

and Jon Doyle’s charming sweet original, HELLO, FISHIES:

Hal asked me if I would write something for this CD, and I was honored.  Here’s what I came up with: easy to tell the truth, and easy to express happiness in words.  (And in case what I’ve written seems to favor Jon Doyle and the leader, I will say only that I’d like to hear a CD led by Dan Walton, Jamey, or Steve.)

A MEETING OF KINDRED SOULS

A true story. Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk were in a taxi, discussing “the beat”. Monk favored surprising shifts but Dizzy disagreed. “What would you do if your heart beat irregular? The steady beat is the principle of life.” My cardiologist would agree: healthy, happy organisms swing from the inside out. Hal Smith’s Swing Central is not only a wondrous cohesive group, inspired by the music of Pee Wee Russell, Lester Young, Frank Chace, and friends, but it affirms joyous principles. From Austin, Texas, comes healing jazz.

Leader Hal tells how this band came to be:

I’ve known Jon Doyle since 2009. The first time I heard him warming up on clarinet, quoting Pres’ solo from “I Want A Little Girl,” the seed was planted for this band. Steve Pikal and I worked together in the Jim Cullum Jazz Band in 2010. Steve’s outgoing personality and propulsive bass playing is always a positive influence. Dan Walton introduced me to the Western Swing scene in Texas. We played together with Jason Roberts’ band and later with Dan’s own Jump Swing Imperials. He understands that “less is more” and it shows. Jamey Cummins has been in Austin for some time, and is finally receiving the attention he deserves. He plays wonderful Freddie Green-like time and inventive, highly rhythmic solos.

We decided not to pursue the familiar Goodman-based clarinet-and-rhythm repertoire but rather to explore the more introverted music of Pee Wee Russell, Lester Young, Frank Chace. Jon Doyle took to the idea like a bat takes to the Congress Ave. Bridge. When we began, the musicians lived in the Central Time zone, so the band name suggested itself. (However, we are not going to add “Pacific” when a couple of our musicians have relocated to the West Coast!)

This was the easiest recording session I have ever done, and several other band members agreed. I think you’ll hear what a good time we had.

This quietly thrilling band reminds me not only of the three inspiring clarinet playing individualists, but of the possibilities of music that gently breaks down the barriers some listeners and journalists build, cubicles labeled “schools” and “styles.” Swing Central takes familiar songs and make them fresh and dewy; Jon’s compositions and reinventions are witty beyond their titles. And these players – happy rovers in the land of Medium Tempo, great ensemble players as well as inspiring soloists — go for themselves rather than copying.

About the repertoire. Listeners will hear the chord structures of SUGAR, MY GAL SAL, I FOUND A NEW BABY, and LADY BE GOOD reinvigorated. An answer key is available at the end of your workbook, but no peeking until you’ve handed in your finished pages.

BIG AL evokes Mr. Capone, who would have tipped Swing Central generously to keep playing his favorite song. Hal explains BATS ON A BRIDGE as “a real Austin phenomenon, and five of the six musicians here have deep roots in Texas’ weirdest city. http://www.batcon.org/index.php/our-work/regions/usa-canada/protect-mega-populations/cab-intro. HI, FISHIES comes from a sweet cross-species story. Ask Jon when you meet him on a gig. REPEATER PENCIL is for Lester, and for this band: artists who honor the innovators by being innovative themselves.

LONG-DISTANCE MAN owes its title to a Pres-and-Chace story recalled by Larry Kart: “[Chace] also told a very ‘Frank’ story about his encounter with Lester Young in 1957 in Pres’s hotel room in (I think) Indianapolis, where Frank was playing at a club and Pres was in town with a non-JATP package tour. The drummer in the band Frank was part of, Buddy Smith, suggested that they pay Pres a visit after the gig, and when they got there, Frank (‘I’m shy,’ he said), hung back while the other guys gathered around Pres. Having noticed this bit of behavior, Pres beckoned Frank to come closer, addressing him softly as ‘long-distance man.’ Probably a meeting of kindred souls.”

SHEIK OF AIRBNB is named thus because Jamey stayed in an AirBnB directly below the studio where the session was recorded. I MUST HAVE THAT MAN is from the band’s live gig at Central Market in Austin on Aug. 28, 2016. Josh Hoag (now with Asleep at the Wheel) filled in for Steve. The band decided that they must share this track with us: a lovely gift. When you are enjoying SUNDAY, don’t be surprised when the track fades out. Do not adjust your set. Hal explains, “Alex Hall’s reliable recording equipment may have been affected by a sun spot, or maybe one of Doyle’s blue notes. But we liked the overall feel so much — particularly Jon’s playing — that we decided to keep as much as possible and fade before the sudden ending.”

Sir John Davies, a Renaissance poet, wrote ORCHESTRA, his conception of a cosmos vibrating in symphonic harmony. If we are very fortunate, the world might vibrate as does Hal Smith’s Swing Central – tender, relaxed, urgent. We have a long way to go, but it’s a noble aspiration.

Here is the link to hear samples, purchase an actual disc, or a download.  Hal and SWING CENTRAL will be appearing at the Bix Festival on the first weekend of August in Davenport, Iowa. . . so you can have the mutual pleasure of buying CDs from the band there, also.  And here is the place to find out about all things Smith — the swinging ones, of course.

May your happiness increase!