Jack Purvis: trumpeter, trombonist, composer, arranger, incidental singer, adventurer, chef, imposter, con man, vandal, sociopath, thief, fabulist, inmate, and more. There are few photographs of Purvis, appropriate to his slippery self. I offer the cover of the superb Jazz Oracle three-CD set, which is a consistent delight, both in the rare music and the stories:
Here is a well-researched chronicle of his parents, his birth, and his early life as (if we are to be charitable) a Scamp, a Rogue, and A Rascal, written by George A. and Eric B. Borgman.
And, there is a delightful Facebook Trumpeter Jack Purvis Appreciation Page Group — full of photographs and music new to me.
Now, to my particular views of Purvis. First, some music, WHAT’S THE USE OF CRYIN’, BABY (May 1, 1930) with J.C. Higginbotham, trombone; Greeley Walton, tenor saxophone; Adrian Rollini, bass saxophone; Frank Froeba, piano; Dick McDonough, guitar; Charles Kegley, drums:
Then, three famous sides from April 4, 1930, whose personnel has been in dispute for decades, but there’s Purvis, Higginbotham, Rollini, Froeba, Kegley, and Will Johnson, guitar. Some sources listed Coleman Hawkins on tenor, but Bob Stephens, recording director for OKeh Records said no, it was Castor McCord, as quoted by Jan Evensmo: “Bob Stephens, studio manager at Okeh and responsible for organizing virtually all the Okeh race sessions, stated in connection with the Purvis sides : ‘Hawk wasn’t on those. We used another guy who played like him – Castor McCord. I was organizing the Blue Rhythm at the time, and I hired him because we wanted a rival attraction to get business away from Henderson.'”
We’ll settle that shortly.
First, DISMAL DAN (an odd title for this cheerful original):
DOWN GEORGIA WAY:
When I visited Dan Morgenstern at his Manhattan apartment last year, I did not expect him to bring up Purvis. But I was delighted when he did:
Yesterday, I asked Dan to clarify something I thought was part of our off-camera conversation, and he wrote, “The issue of the tenor on the Poor Richard date was settled for me when Hawk’s response to my bringing up Purvis was instant,
as he recalled, without prompting, that very session and that he was
astonished at what he considered a most peculiar manner of paying
tribute to his recently deceased brother. He added some positive comments about his playing and amusing eccentricity. So I consider that my greatest contribution to discography.”
And the Facebook page notes that Richard Purvis lived on until 2014.
My friend Connor Cole suggested, some months ago, that I might find Charlie Barnet’s autobiography, THOSE SWINGING YEARS, worth reading — warning me in advance that it was often more a chronicle of sex and drink than music, which did not scare me away. Barnet knew Purvis, who, “after all, could charm you to death while he picked your pocket,” and had some remarkable stories. He refers to Purvis as “one of the wildest men I have ever met in my life” and praises him as a trumpeter far ahead of his peers, both in jazz and in symphonic music. Quickly, though, Purvis became a burden: “By this time [circa 1930] I had had my fill of Jack. There was enough trouble to get into without his help, but he was a mad genius and a wonderful trumpet player. You couldn’t be a close friend, because you couldn’t trust him. You never knew what he was going to do.”
Barnet hires him in 1933: “Jack started to write some charts for us, but even in this area he had to indulge his diabolical whims. He would figure out the weaknesses of each member of the band–low notes, high notes, strange key signatures, whatever–and that would be central to each individual’s part. And Jack chuckled to himself at the struggle.”
Certainly “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”
But on this 1935 recording, from his last session — where he speaks and sings — you hear his swinging ease alongside Slats Long, clarinet; Herbie Haymer, tenor saxophone; Frank Froeba, piano and leader; Clayton “Sunshine” Duerr, guitar; Carroll Waldron, string bass; as well as some powerful drumming from the elusive Eddie Dougherty:
A sad footnote. Dan and I had wondered about the writer / researcher / archivist Michael Brooks, whose idiosyncratic liner notes still stick in my head — he took great chances and usually got away with them. I learned today that Michael had died (he was born in 1935) on November 20, 2020: details here.
May your happiness increase!