Here is the music from New York Jazz Repertory Company’s half-hour “Tribute to Jean Goldkette”: Jimmie Maxwell, Bernie Privin, trumpet; Dick Sudhalter, possibly cornet; Eddie Bert, Al Cobbs, trombone; Bob Wilber, Johnny Mince, clarinet, alto saxophone; Budd Johnson, Eddie Barefield, clarinet, tenor, baritone saxophone; Dick Hyman, piano, transcriptions, arrangements; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Milt Hinton, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums.
SUNDAY / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / I’M GONNA MEET MY SWEETIE NOW / IN A MIST (Hyman) / CLEMENTINE (From New Orleans) / SINGIN’ THE BLUES [with vocal break at 17:45!] / CLARINET MARMALADE [Solos abound, with wild Hyman and reed section trades] //
French radio broadcast from the Nice Jazz Festival, “Grande Parade du Jazz,” July 14, 1976:
Beautiful music, splendidly played: simultaneously historical and timeless.
Some readers of JAZZ LIVES may scan this post, see that it is not brimming over with new performance videos of their favorite band, and turn to something more interesting on their phones. I do understand: words and ideas don’t go down as smoothly as videos. But humor me on this, if you will.
I was alive and reasonably capable in the world (I had a job, I’d earned some degrees) before I encountered a computer, and at first it was merely a hip typewriter. Some years later, email, YouTube, social media, and so on, changed my world as they did yours. I still marvel at the ways human behavior and decorum have been warped by the ubiquity of the internet. This is most apparent to me in one of my chosen playgrounds, YouTube.
For a long time, the anonymity of an alias has made it possible for some people who might have gastric reflux disorder or other internal sournesses to be “critics” with high-powered scopes. I take this personally, which is my problem, but when I post a video, it’s never by someone I think inept or amateurish. Florence Foster Jenkins, Mrs. Miller, Jonathan and Darlene Edwards are not artists I cherish for my listening.
So when someone writes, “This sucks,” I delete the comment and lock the gate so they can’t do it again. In the same way that if you invited me for lunch at your house, I wouldn’t say, “This food tastes like shit,” I expect people to keep their harsh estimates to themselves. This lack of restraint encourages my reciprocation. Someone writes of a 2008 performance, “Tempo too fast,” I may respond, “You’re so right. I’ll go back to 2008 right now and ask them to slow it down for you.” Childish, perhaps. But I won’t have people I admire shat on.
I’ve given up on the possibly logical rebuttal to “The drummer is lousy,” which is, “Sir, can you tap your index finger on the desk for the length of this performance and keep good time?” Or “Her screechy voice gets on my nerves,” which is, “When is your next concert tour?” but I think the platform from which one issues a critical judgment ought to be built on some informed experience.
Certain scornful comments have immense validity, but we must (as they say) “consider the source.” Yank Lawson told the story of the first time he played with Sidney Bechet, wanting to impress the Master, he sailed into JAZZ ME BLUES at a dazzling tempo, and when it was through, looking to Bechet for praise, Sidney said only, “Young man, you played that song too fucking fast.” To me, those words are hard, but they are also the syllables that the Sage delivers when you’ve climbed up to the cave in the Himalayas.
But Bechet’s assessment is galaxies away from such inspired nit-picking as “She should have introduced the drummer and bassist by name instead of referring to them as ‘my friends,'” to which I nearly wrote, “Have you considered volunteering for Habitat for Humanity to put all that energy to better use?” (I did write back and say that the two musicians had been introduced lavishly through the concert, but why I spent energy on this is mysterious even to me.)
I learned early from my mentor Sammut of Malta that what was particularly offensive about such “criticism” was its false courage — as if one could pin an anonymous note on another middle-schooler’s coat, saying what one would never have the courage to say in person. Sammut wisely suggested to me that the rule of criticism might well be, “Would you walk up to the musician and say this to her face?” Let that sink in. Imagine, if you will, someone walking up to Louis at the intermission and saying, “You know, you’re supposed to be a great jazzman. Why do you play the same solos?” but that was printed over and over.
But there’s a new wrinkle in this anonymous sociopathy which I’d like to ask you to look for, because it’s a thrilling arrogance. I realized recently that the commenters no longer looked upon themselves as Wise Critics (DOWN BEAT staff, giving this two stars and that five) but . . . . Employers.
Slowly, the criticisms have edged from “I don’t like this,” to “This isn’t good,” to a more haughty disapproval, as if the waitperson had brought our salad too warm or our entree too cool. The subtext is, “You have not delivered to me the product I wanted, so I will be unsparing in pointing out the limitations of what you have done.” It’s also worth noting that no one pays to see free videos.
Artists are not members of a service industry.
So “The band isn’t as good as the band I think is really good,” is no longer a statement of personal displeasure but a more powerful expression of official censure, as if the listener could say, “You guys play that tempo again, and OUT with you!” I wonder where this will go, this impulse not simply to disapprove but almost to punish. I want to be present with my camera when a fan walks up to one of my admired musicians, stands in front of her, claps his hands to get her attention, and says, “I think that song should be played slower, and I prefer Bb to C.” You may think I exaggerate, but the notion that the audience is the boss of the musicians is gaining ground, if the comments are any indication. What’s next?
I entered the land of performance, whether live or in another medium, with the basic assumptions that the musicians had worked long and hard (“ten thousand hours”) to make music at something nearing a professional level. In performance, I observe someone mis-finger a note, play a wrong chord, slow the tempo down, and I notice such things. But I also know that I am not at the level of even making such a single mistake in a performance; I’ve been listening all my adult life, but a performance by me would have more errors than gratifications. So I approach even imperfect performances with a modicum of admiration. I might not like the way X band plays; it does not appeal to me; I like Y so much better . . . but I wouldn’t mock X in public from behind the paper shield of anonymity.
I can stop the video or the CD, I can leave the club or the concert hall in mid-performance, but I haven’t the right to yell at the people onstage. And I don’t assume that the musicians exist, or play, to please me.
I went back through my collection of other people’s comments and couldn’t find really dramatic examples of this tendency, and then I realized I had deleted them. It’s the only way I can protect the artists I admire from sneers of people who think they have the right to be mean-spirited. Keep an eye out as you travel the byways of YouTube and other organs of public expression: you will find that what I describe here is not an over-sensitive fantasy of my own invention.
Great art outlives its critics. The writer who called Trumbauer’s SINGIN’ THE BLUES “disappointing,” Mike Levin, who mocked Lester Young’s “cardboard tone,” are no more, but we can still listen to Tram and Pres and exult.
To paraphrase Jim in Huckleberry Finn, we don’t own the musicians. They own themselves. And we should bless them rather than carp at them.
Jazz history as presented by people who should know better is compressed into telephone poles glimpsed through the window of a speeding train: “All aboard! MAPLE LEAF RAG . . . .WEST END BLUES . . . . LADY BE GOOD . . . . COTTON TAIL . . . . KO KO . . . . KIND OF BLUE . . . . A LOVE SUPREME. Last stop, ladies and gentlemen!”
At best, an inexplicable series of distortions, omissions.
One small example of this odd perspective on the music I’ve spent my life immersed in is the discussion of the “jazz ballad.” I take it to be players or singers improvising over a composition in slower tempo, its mood romantic or melancholy or both. Of course people wanted slower tempos to dance to: THE STAMPEDE was a marvel, but you couldn’t hold your darling close to you on the dance floor at that tempo. One of the “authorities” states that the first jazz ballad performance is the Trumbauer-Beiderbecke I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA, followed by the Mound City Blue Blowers’ ONE HOUR, 1927 and 1929, respectively. But that leaves out, for one example, Jimmie Noone’s SWEET LORRAINE and many other recordings. And, of course, recordings are only a tiny sliver of what was being performed and appreciated.
But as far as jazz ballads are concerned, I think performances of songs titled I NEED YOU and NOW THAT I’VE FOUND YOU are certainly relevant. And they have not been considered worthy of notice by those who reduce an art form to easy-to-swallow historical capsules, useful for those who need to pass final examinations.
Also what runs parallel to this “ballad hypothesis,” a statement I’ve heard recently, is the contention that Caucasian audiences liked sweet music; Afro-Americans liked hot music. We’re told that recording supervisors embraced this hypothesis as well. The exceptions proliferate: tell that to Charles Linton, Pha Terrell, Harlan Lattimore, Eva Taylor, and more. But that’s another posting.
Enough grumbling about those who theorize from a very narrow awareness. Here are two very seductive examples of category-exploding that also fall sweetly on the ear. Neither performance has lyrics, but they would be easy to invent: to me they are very satisfying unacknowledged jazz ballads.
The first is Clarence Williams’ I NEED YOU, composers credited on the label as Jackson and Williams, from May 29, 1928, performed by Clarence Williams’ Jazz Kings : Ed Allen, King Oliver, cornet’ probably Ed Cuffee, trombone; probably Albert Socarras, clarinet, alto saxophone; Clarence Williams, piano; Cyrus St. Clair, tuba:
Then, a beautiful song by Tiny Parham from the last recording session he made for Victor, November 11, 1930, NOW THAT I’VE FOUND YOU:
That lovely record contains what is, to me, a delectable unsolved mystery. The listed personnel of Tiny Parham And His Musicians is: Roy Hobson, cornet; Ike Covington, trombone; Dalbert Bright, clarinet, alto and tenor saxophone; Charlie Johnson, clarinet, alto; Tiny Parham, piano, leader; Big Mike McKendrick, banjo, guitar; Milt Hinton, brass bass; Jimmy McEndre, drums. The Victor label clearly indicates “Whistling chorus by Maurice Hendricks.” And a gorgeous twenty-four bars it is, in high style: the Red McKenzie of whistlers. A small sidelight: “Hendricks” whistles the first sixteen bars elegantly, and I find myself missing him through the bridge and elated when he returns for the final eight bars.
But who is or was Maurice Hendricks? If he is a real musician, why doesn’t his name appear in any discography? The theory that it might be young Milt Hinton (the initials are the only hint) is implausible because Milt is audibly playing brass bass — tuba, or sousaphone, what you will — throughout the record, not putting the horn down while the Whistler is so prettily doing his thing. Brian Rust and “Atticus Jazz” say that “Maurice Hendricks” is Big Mike McKendrick, and I would grant a certain aural similarity between the name and the pseudonym, but a) why would a pseudonym be needed on the label, and b) why are there apparently no other recorded examples of Big Mike whistling? Was “Maurice” a friend of the Parham band, welcomed into the studio to amaze us now, ninety years later?
My best answers for the moment are of course whimsical: “Maurice Hendricks” is really Lew Le Mar, who made the hyena and billy goat sounds for the 1927 Red Hot Peppers session, or, if you don’t think that Lew hung around Chicago for three years just to get back in the Victor studios, I propose that the Whistler is Cassino Simpson, who was capable of more than we can imagine, but that’s only because Jack Purvis was busy making many recordings in New York in November 1930.
Theorize as you will, though, the music rises above whatever we can say about it. Listen again. Thanks to Mike Karoub for his ears, to Matthew Rivera of the Hot Club of New York and especially to Charles Iselin for bringing the second recording to my attention.
Of course, the Legends are Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Adrian Rollini, and their majestic colleagues. But from this distance — can it be a little more than forty years ago? — Messrs. Pletcher, Ingle, Harker, Gibson, Whitman, Miller, and Koch are legendary as well.
I asked someone who is too young to be a legend but certainly plays like one, David Jellema, to write an appreciation of this band, this video, and Tom Pletcher, and I am delighted to present it to you. David, whom I’ve known for more than a few years, is a world-class cornet and clarinet hero, hot and lyrical, his work intelligent and passionate, his style all his own even when he is paying tribute to the Masters who have inspired him. At the end of this presentation, I’ll share a few videos where David shines and list a few sessions that delightfully showcase his work.
But now, to the Sons, through David’s affectionate and perceptive lens.
In the 1970s and 80s, many of the founding fathers of jazz and swing, although in their twilight years, were fortunately yet with us. It was also a great time for the second generation of jazzmen not only to be personally influenced by the ancestors, but to be mingling and collaborating to make their own unique sweet preserves of musical fruits. Bands featured at many of the revival traditional jazz festivals tapped specific, living veins of American jazz heritage.
There were a few bands on the scene that dedicated themselves to the memorialization of the legend of Bix Beiderbecke, some featured over the years at the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society jazz festival in Davenport, Iowa where Bix was born. One such specialty band, western Michigan’s “The Jackpine Savages,” formed in 1971, had the expected repertoire of traditional jazz standards and many tunes that Beiderbecke had recorded, but had the honored distinction of including leader Don Ingle (Baldwin, Michigan) on valve trombone and vocals, and Tom Pletcher (Montague, Michigan) on cornet.
Ingle’s father, Ernest ‘Red’ Ingle, played tenor sax and violin,and over his career had recorded with Ted Weems, Spike Jones Orchestra, and his own group,the Natural Seven. For an engagement in Cincinnati in May and June 1927, Red appeared on tenor sax with the Jean Goldkette Orchestra. So Don Ingle (1931-2012, who, as an infant, had been held in Bix’s own arms), inheriting his father’s music, humor, and artistic talents, was tutored on cornet by Red Nichols, on arranging by Matty Matlock, and played at Chicago’s Jazz Limited in the mid ‘60s. When he formed The Jackpine Savages in the early 1970s to play at the Lost Valley Lodge on Lake Michigan’s shore near Montague (also for various appearances locally and at aforementioned festivals), he switched to the valve trombone and hired local business-man Pletcher to play the cornet.It was just a few years later that Ingle collaborated with Chicago-based bandleader and piano player Don Gibson (Al Capone Memorial Jazz Band) in forming the Bix-style repertory band heard here, the “Sons of Bix,” whose repertoire and arrangements were primarily informed by Bix’s recordings and as well by period tunes Bix may have played.
This cornet player, Tom Pletcher (1936-2019), was fortunate to have been born to a sterling jazz trumpet player who had played in a few of the earliest jazz groups in collegiate circles. Stewart (“Stu” or “Stew”) Pletcher had friends and associates among the likes of Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Bobby Hackett, and Roy Eldridge (who had once exclaimed to young Tom sweet profanities of praise about his dad), and played professionally for Ben Pollack, Smith Ballew, Red Norvo. Young Tom had the nurturing environment of the earliest of the jazz pioneers even in his home growing up; and at 15, hearing his first Bix record, decided to take up the cornet. After formative youth years on the West Coast, adult Pletcher ended up taking over his grandfather’s decorative metal business in the White Lake, Michigan area (something his jazz musician father was not in position nor disposition to do) throughout a good deal of his life. This metal fabricator shop was a little more than 7 miles from where Ingle’s band would play at that lone restaurant overlooking Lake Michigan shores.
Pletcher’s fascination with Beiderbecke’s music led him into remarkable musical circumstances and personal associations that fueled and lent credence to his knowledge of Bix’s life and music. He corresponded with and visited the homes of the guys who had known and played with Bix. As a layman, he was diligent in seeking, and lucky in finding, not only information, facts, and stories about Bix, but even unseen pictures and a previously unheard recording, thereby to a small degree aiding in the research of Phil Evans toward two different exhaustive books about Bix. In that respect alone he deserves some credit toward the shaping of a factual account of Bix’s life beyond romantic and apocryphal mythologies and fantasies, something the dreamy jazz icon was victim to even before his tragic early death.
Pletcher’s acute intimacy with Bix’s music found its real recognition, however, in how he played a Getzen Eterna cornet(–one from 1965 that Ingle sold to him when Tom joined the Jackpines, and another large bore Eterna he bought in 1987). Certainly Pletcher had been influenced by his own father, Stu, and the musicians Stu associated with (especially Armstrong and Teagarden). Pletcher was an avid fan of Bobby Hackett, and often could deliver a solo sounding convincingly like the gentle man from Providence. He loved the recordings of Bunny Berigan, listening til the end of his life. Tom had acquired and absorbed all the lp records of Chet Baker. (Pletcher was also a keen listener, with Bix, to the music of the French Impressionist composers, Debussy, Ravel, and Delius, beautiful sounds that also influenced how he felt the music.) So a broad base of jazz (and classical) sounds made for a rich depth and diversity of the ideas that he expressed on the horn: he didn’t just play Bix’s licks or try to copy Bix. (The note-for-note tribute solo features like “Singin’ the Blues” mark the rare exception).
It was the extent to which Pletcher had absorbed and internalized technical aspects of Bix’s playing (attack and articulation, tone, vibrato, dynamics, effects and idiosyncrasies, and often, humor) without slavishly or consciously copying Beiderbecke that allowed him the acclaim among fans and musicians, contemporaneous to his generation and that of Beiderbecke’s, that he had come closest to Bix’s sound and spirit of anyone to date. All the other influences that had seasoned his playing allowed him freedom to express his own modern feel of the Bixian sound, keeping those sounds fresh.
Among musicians in the 1980s and early 1990s, he would be the first call to sit in “Bix’s chair” for a host of projects that recreated that period in repertory bands. While yet still alive, Bill Challis, the Bix-friendly arranger for the famous Jean Goldkette Orchestra and Paul Whiteman Orchestra (and the man who transcribed and published Bix’s piano compositions), joined with protégé Vince Giordano to do some newer, expanded renditions of songs from the Goldkette years, including tunes Bix had recorded and some he hadn’t. Legendary piano demi-god and musical powerhouse Dick Hyman had Pletcher featured in a 92nd Street Y concert in New York City (and subsequent CD for Arbors Records) called “If Bix Played Gershwin,” a delicious pallet of all Gershwin tunes rendered as if they had been played in some of the formats that Bix had been grouped in. (Actually, only one Gershwin song from the concert was one that Bix had recorded, “Sunny Disposish.”) An Italian film producer had Pletcher playing the Bixian lead and solos for the stellar soundtrack of a not-so-stellar film loosely based on Bix’s life called “Bix: An Interpretation of a Legend.” John Otto’s “Hotel Edison Roof Orchestra” made in two recordings the perfect setting for Pletcher’s sound: hot jazz arrangements from Jean Goldkette, California Ramblers, Ted Weems, Roger Wolfe Kahn, Sam Lanin, Frank Skinner, and more.
A word must be said about one of Pletcher’s longest standing gigs of fairly consistent personnel. Pletcher played yearly among a group of musicians who gathered to play at Princeton 50th class reunions (months of June, 1975-1981), partly to entertain alumni, but mostly to enjoy their own private ongoing reunions of musicians who were fond of Bix’s music and some who were there when Bix played at Princeton near the end of his life. Squirrel Ashcraft, Bill Priestley, Jack Howe, and other Princeton grads had continued playing music under Bix’s spell at jam sessions in the 40s, 50s, and 60s; they were joined by later Princeton grads like Ron Hockett and Doug James, and collegiate and commercial band alumni like Spencer Clark, Bud Wilson, and Bob Haggart. The music had Eddie Condon-like small group spirit and freedom, and a relaxed approach. Live recordings from these were privately issued on vinyl for the musicians, friends, and alumni. They too called themselves “Sons of Bix.” They later went into Jazzology studios to record formal lps under Haggart’s name, with arrangements on “Clementine” and “In a Mist” by Hockett. They also did a number of private parties on the east coast that carried the reunion flames forth, one among many in Vero Beach which produced a nice album of cassettes with a complete 8-page history of the various “Sons of Bix” configurations over the decades, written by Jack Howe.
The Sons of Bix that you hear in this video (originally calling themselves, tongue in cheek, “The Sons of Bix’s”) only have Pletcher in common with the Princeton Reunion Sons of Bix, although their personnel may have had associations in the Evanston, Illinois jam sessions at Squirrel’s. These SOBs had three lp albums that were released (“A Legend Revisited” on Fairmont Records;“Ostrich Walk,” “Copenhagen”both on Jazzology). One was recorded but not issued on vinyl, and only in part much later online, called “San.” They played at the popular traditional jazz festivals like San Diego, Central City, and Sacramento. They toured Europe in 1979, playing in numerous countries and at the Breda Jazz Festival. (That is no small feat for loads of luggage, many horn and drum cases, a bass sax, train schedules and coaches, plane rides, small alleys, streets, and bars, wives and my own tagging aunt and uncle..)
In their “first East Coast appearance,” introduced here by the director of the DC-area Manassas Jazz Festival, Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, the personnel consists of Glenn Koch, drums; Don Ingle, announcer, valve trombone, arranger, co-leader; Don Gibson, piano, arranger, co-leader; John Harker on clarinet and alto sax; Dave Miller, banjo and guitar; Tom Pletcher, cornet; and Russ Whitman, bass saxophone. In this video you’ll hear six songs that Beiderbecke had recorded, and one traditional tune they occasionally played.
I heard this band live for the first time at this very festival. I was a little boy, almost 14, with a bowl-cut Dutch-boy head of blonde hair and corduroy pants climbing high over white socks. I joined some of them for a brief after-hours jam session, along with another young Bix-Pletcher protégé named Ralph Norton, whose hair was slicked back and parted down the middle. (By the next time I heard them live, Ralph and I were in a cordial race to see who could part with his hair first.)Fast forward. In August 1987, I was just graduated from college, and for that summer was at my family farmhouse near Montague, Michigan (within a 12-minute walk from the Lost Valley Lodge where I first had heard the Jackpine Savages as a lad). The Sons of Bix had two appearances in the area the 8th and 9th, one at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp with guest Marian McPartland, in which she joined the band for a standard, played “In a Mist” solo, and did a haunting duet of “Stardust” with Pletcher. The next day,the SOBs were at a country club near Muskegon. Tom was playing that weekend on a brand new, large-bore Getzen Eterna, and any adjustments he needed to get used to the feel of the new horn on its maiden voyage Saturday night had been made into a crackling performance for the local jazz society the next day.
Unfortunately, life was making demands on me that did not allow me any further opportunities to hear this band live. But the lp records had to suffice, and the magic had been done on me. In either case, here was a band that liked playing together, liked the specific material they were reviving and reshaping, played with energy and cohesion, joked and giggled a lot. They had intelligent arrangements when needed, they could hug the ballads, and could fire up listeners with the standard barn-burners of the genre. Each musician was a seasoned, veteran master at his craft. Each one had remarkable personal connection to his antecedents at a time when some of those musical forebears were still alive to enjoy their own memories and these new achievements.
I have resisted a number of other opportunities herein to insert myself further into the narrative about this band and its roots, about Ingle, and especially about Pletcher. I will simply close with a note of gratitude to them for their loving treatment of their musical heroes and their influence on the younger musicians they had the chance to shape, to the two horn players that especially mentored me, to all the other musicians who play in these sounds, and finally to the historians, archivists, and documenters that have the cultivating hands in making this tree continue to grow in the shape of a musician from Davenport, Iowa.
And now, that 1978 session. SUSIE / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / BORNEO / CARELESS LOVE / THOU SWELL / CLEMENTINE / FIDGETY FEET // Introduced by Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee: Tom Pletcher (cornet), Don Ingle (valve trombone), John Harker (clarinet), Don Gibson (piano), Russ Whitman (bass sax), Dave Miller (guitar, banjo), Glenn Koch (drums).
Back to David for a rewarding short interlude.
What could be nicer than four friends romping through a jazz evergreen: Albanie Falletta, David, Jonathan Doyle, and Jamey Cummins in 2014:
More friends, the Thrift Set Orchestra (yes, that’s Hal Smith!) in 2013, doing KRAZY KAPERS:
Many of the same rascals, plus the wonderful Alice Spencer, in 2014:
You can also hear David on the Brooks Prumo Orchestra’s THIS YEAR’S KISSES, two sessions by the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet, THE ROAD TO LEAVING and LIVE AT THE SAHARA LOUNGE, as well as FLOYD DOMINO ALL-STARS.
I’ve known the multi-instrumentalist and jazz scholar Michael McQuaid for ten years now (we first met at the Whitley Bay Jazz Party, on a bus from the airport, if I remember); I just became Facebook friends with guitarist Curtis Volp. This post is to let you know about their brand-new CD — can I call it a CD if it only, for the moment, exists intangibly? — available here. There you can hear the first track for free, no obligations implied or expressed.
Some words, not mine, but right on target:
Established hot jazz authority Michael McQuaid and youthful guitar virtuoso Curtis Volp team up for a dynamic yet intimate series of duets, for no reason at all – other than musical enjoyment, of course.
The album features a surprising array of tunes from the 1920s and 30s, ranging from familiar favourites like ‘The Man I Love’ and ‘Melancholy’ to unjustly neglected gems such as ‘Forget-Me-Not’ and ‘If I Can’t Have You’.
Though inspired by the likes of Bix Beiderbecke, Johnny Dodds, Frank Trumbauer, Annette Hanshaw, Eddie Lang and Teddy Bunn, the duo achieves a fresh new sound through their warm and witty musical dialogue.
Some facts, now that you’ve figured out the personnel. The songs are THERE AIN’T NO LAND LIKE DIXIELAND TO ME / WITHOUT THAT GAL! / FOR NO REASON AT ALL IN C / MELANCHOLY / THE MAN I LOVE / LOTS O’MAMA / MOONLIGHT ON THE GANGES / BLUE RIVER / FORGET-ME-NOT / LOOKING AT THE WORLD (Thru’ Rose-Colored Glasses) / IF I CAN’T HAVE YOU / WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD / BECHET’S STEADY RIDER /
And another sample:
Some random observations, because it seems important to me to make the JAZZ LIVES readership aware of this music right now. I’m on my third playing, because when the “disc” ended the first time, I was shocked. “Is it over? Is that all?” which you can take as a positive endorsement.
The music is nicely varied — in tempo, in mood, in emotions and emotional associations. Several of the more morose songs (you’ll know them when you hear them) are taken a little more brightly than is conventional, but the approach works. Both Michael and Curtis are free, imaginative players, but they clearly love the melodies, so no track is a blowing exercise on the chord changes. The person who has been deep in the music for a half-century (wait, that’s me!) can find subtleties to admire, but this is also unashamedly “pretty” music that wouldn’t scare the new kitten back into the closet.
The repertoire is of a certain era, and the playing is spiritually and chronologically appropriate — there are no quotes from 1958 Rollins or Wes here — but it isn’t a museum tour, with a guard glowering at us to keep our distance and not touch the precious OKeh icons. Their approach is loving but not timid, reverent but not imitative (except in their FOR NO REASON AT ALL, which has its own little individualistic nuances). Occasionally I felt as if I’d wandered into an alternate universe of “What if?” as in “What if Tram and Lang had had a whole side to themselves to play BLUE RIVER?” Although Curtis reminds me beautifully of Salvatore Massaro, he isn’t a clone; Michael knows so many reed players so deeply that there’s no danger of him getting buckled into one cosplay suit and never being able to free himself.
I admire this session all the more because I know how risky duet improvisations are when the two musicians are in the same space, can make mutual eye contact to signal changes in the itinerary, and can prance simultaneously together. Somehow, I think watching the monitor and listening through earbuds doesn’t make it easier, and I rejoice at the warmth of their duet.
Incidentally, there are no jokes, no gimmicks, no earnest or comic vocals, but the musicians are having fun — this is a very lively jovial session, and Curtis even shouts “Yeah!” on BECHET’S STEADY RIDER. Appropriately.
This is beautiful fulfilling warm music, a real accomplishment. I think you’ll love it. I certainly do.
Adrian Rollini has been gone from us for nearly sixty-five years, but his imagination, his huge sound, his virtuosity lives on. He has been celebrated as associate of Bix Beiderbecke, Red Nichols, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, the California Ramblers and their spin-offs, Cliff Edwards, Frank Trumbauer, Annette Hanshaw, Vic Berton, Stan King, Abe Lincoln, Miff Mole, Fred Elizalde, Bert Lown, Tom Clines, Bunny Berigan, Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, Lee Morse, Jack Purvis, Benny Goodman, Ethel Waters, Fats Waller, Gene Krupa, Wingy Manone, Joe Marsala, Pee Wee Russell, and many more; multi-instrumentalist: the premier bass saxophonist, a pianist, drummer, vibraphonist, xylophonist, and master of the goofus and the “hot fountain pen,” with recordings over mearly three decades — 473 sessions, says Tom Lord — to prove his art.
Here, in about six minutes, is Rollini, encapsulated — lyrically on vibraphone for HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, then playing TAP ROOM SWING (really THE FARMER IN THE DELL with a domino on) alongside Berigan, Teddy Wilson, and Babe Russin — for the Saturday Night Swing Club, with Paul Douglas the announcer. Thanks to Nick Dellow for this two-sided gem:
and later on, the vibraphone-guitar-trio:
I love the song — as well as the weight and drive Rollini gives this 1933 ensemble — to say nothing of Red McKenzie, Berigan, and Pee Wee Russell:
and the very hot performance of NOBODY’S SWEETHEART by Fred Elizalde:
Rollini died on May 15, 1956, not yet 53, so by most perspectives he is a historical figure, outlived by many of his contemporaries (Nichols, Mole, Hackett, Buddy Rich come to mind). He made no recordings after December 1947. But recently, several exciting fully-realized projects have made him so much more than a fabled name on record labels and in discographies.
The first Rollini exaltation is a CD, TAP ROOM SWING, by the delightful multi-instrumentalist Attila Korb, “and his Rollini Project,” recorded in 2015 with a memorable cast of individualists getting a full orchestral sound from three horns and two rhythm players.
Attila plays bass saxophone, melodica, and sings beautifully on BLUE RIVER and SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, and is responsible for the magical arrangements; Malo Mazurie plays trumpet and cornet; David Lukacs, clarinet and tenor; Harry Kanters, piano; Felix Hunot, guitar and banjo. Those names should be familiar to people wise to “old time modern,” for Felix and Malo are 2/3 of Three Blind Mice, and with Joep Lumeij replacing Harry, it is David Lukacs’s marvelous DREAM CITY band. The selections are drawn from various facets of Rollini’s bass saxophone career: SOMEBODY LOVES ME / SUGAR / THREE BLIND MICE / BLUE RIVER / BUGLE CALL RAG / DIXIE / SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL / PE O’MY HEART / TAP ROOM SWING / I LEFT MY SUGAR STANDING IN THE RAIN / SWING LOW / EMBRACEABLE YOU (the last a gorgeous bonus track, a duet for Attila and Felix that is very tender). The performances follow the outlines of the famous recordings, but the solos are lively, and the whole enterprise feels jaunty, nothing at all like the Museum of Shellac. You can buy the CD or download the music here, and follow the band on their Facebook page.
Here’s evidence of how this compact orchestra is both immensely respectful of the originals but — in the truest homage to the innovators — free to be themselves.
MY PRETTY GIRL (2018), where the Project foursome becomes the whole Goldkette Orchestra, live, no less:
THREE BLIND MICE, PEG O’MY HEART, SOMEBODY LOVES ME, BLUE RIVER (2016), showing how inventive the quintet is:
CLARINET MARMALADE, LULU’S BACK IN TOWN, BLUE RIVER, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL — with a caffeinated-Bach interlude, not to be missed (2017):
I would chase this band all over Europe if circumstances were different, but they already have expert videography. And at the end of this post I will share their most recent delightful episode.
But first, reading matter of the finest kind. For a number of years now, there has been excited whispering, “How soon will the Rollini book come out?” We knew that its author, Ate van Delden, is a scholar rather than an enthusiast or a mere compiler of facts we already know. ADRIAN ROLLINI: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF A JAZZ RAMBLER is here, and it’s a model of the genre. I confess that I am seriously tardy in adding my praise to the chorus, but it’s an example of “Be careful what you wish for.” I always look for books that will tell me what I didn’t already know, rather than my thinking, “Yes, I read that story here, and this one in another book.”
RAMBLER, to keep it short, has so much new information that it has taxed my five wits to give it a thorough linear reading. I’ve been picking it up, reading about Rollini’s early life as a piano prodigy (and the piano rolls he cut), his associations with the famous musicians above, his thousands of recordings, and more. van Delden has investigated the rumors and facts of Rollini’s death, and he has (more valuable to me) portrayed Rollini not only as a brilliant multi-instrumentalist but as a businessman — opening jazz clubs, hiring and firing musicians, looking for financial advantages in expert ways — and we get a sense of Rollini the man through interviews with people who knew him and played with him.
He comes across as a complex figure, and thus, although van Delden does give loving attention to Rollini on record, the book is so much more than an annotated discography. In its five hundred and more pages, the book is thorough without being tedious or slow-moving, and if a reader comes up with an unanswered Rollini question, I’d be astonished. The author has a rare generous objectivity: he admires Rollini greatly, but when his and our hero acts unpleasantly or inexplicably, he is ready to say so. Of course, there are many previously unseen photographs and wonderful bits of relevant paper ephemera. The book is the result of forty years of research, begun by Tom Faber and carried on into 2020, and it would satisfy the most demonically attentive Rollini scholar. And if that should suggest that its audience is narrow, I would assign it to students of social and cultural history: there’s much to be learned here (the intersections of art, race, economics, and entertainment in the last century) even for people who will never play the hot fountain pen.
And here’s something completely up-to-date — a social-distancing Rollini Project video that is characteristically emotionally warm and friendly, the very opposite of distant, his nine-piece rendition of SOMEBODY LOVES ME, which appeared on May 23. Contemporary jazz, indeed!
How unsubtle should I be? Buy the CD, buy the book — support the living people who are doing the work of keeping the masters alive in our heads.
This post is part three of three. I wish it were part three of ten, but one can’t be greedy. Here’s part one, and parttwo. And here is the 1927 Oldsmobile.
And now . . . . four classic performances that we all associate with Jean Goldkette, Bill Challis, Bix Beiderbecke, and Frank Trumbauer, music conceived in 1927 and revisited for enthusiasm, style, and expertise in 2015.
I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA:
IN MY MERRY OLDSMOBILE (the 4 / 4 version), with Mike Davis blowing a scorching chorus where the vocal once was:
CLEMENTINE (From New Orleans), the last side this band recorded for Victor:
MY PRETTY GIRL:
It was an honor to be there, and it is a privilege to share these dozen performances with you. Blessings on the musicians, on Chauncey Morehouse’s friends and family, and, as before, this post is dedicated to Susan Anne Atherton.
I hadn’t heard of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania before the summer of 2015, when drummer-percussionist-archivist Josh Duffee announced his intention of giving a concert with his ten-piece Graystone Monarchs to celebrate the appearance of the Jean Goldkette Orchestra at the Capitol Theater on May 4, 1927, which was a triumphant evening, made even more so because Chambersburg was legendary drummer Chauncey Morehouse’s home town.
As you will see, the modern evening was triumphant also. And a fact that says something about Josh’s devotion to the jazz heritage — the 2015 concert was free to the public (I am sure the 1927 one wasn’t).
Of course, I asked Josh if he needed a videographer, and he did, so you can see highlights of that concert here. The band — expert and hot — was Josh on drums; Leigh Barker, string bass; John Scurry, banjo / guitar; Tom Roberts, piano; Jason Downes, Michael McQuaid, Jay Rattman, reeds; Jim Fryer, trombone; Andy Schumm, Mike Davis, trumpets.
Twelve performances from this evening have been approved for you to enjoy, and I have taken the perhaps unusual step in presenting them in three portions, as if you’d bought two new records from the local Victor dealer and would have weeks or more to savor them. But eight more performances will follow.
An exuberant start:
SLOW RIVER, arranged by Bill Challis, who told Phil Schaap he hated the limp melody and tried to bury and sabotage it:
DINAH, harking back to the 1926 version featuring Steve Brown:
And the fourth “side,” from Chauncey’s days with the 1935 Russ Morgan orchestra:
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 2020Redwood 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.
I don’t remember in which antique store I found a shiny copy of the record above, except that my boredom (prowling through aisles of overpriced odd fragments of human history) stopped instantly. It’s a famous recording, because more than twenty years ago, an unidentified trumpet solo that sounded rather Bixian was seized upon as being a true Bix improvisation. I assure you that the dramatic discussions that went on — read here if you like — are not my subject.
Before I delve into why, here’s some data: the personnel as stated by Tom Lord: Ray Miller And His Orchestra : Muggsy Spanier (cnt) Max Connett, Lloyd Wallen (tp) Jules Fasthoff (tb) Jim Cannon (cl,as) Maurice Morse (as) Lyle Smith (ts) Paul Lyman (vln) Art Gronwall (p,arr) Leon Kaplan (bj,g) Jules Cassard (tu,b) Bill Paley (d) Bob Nolan, Mary Williams (vcl) Ray Miller (dir).
Why should I post the two takes of CRADLE OF LOVE? For one thing, I have been putting my 78s in order and I saw the record, decided to play it, liked it, played it several times over. And I continue to do so: it has become something I love.
The song itself — by the team that had a hit with RAMONA — is delightful in its limited scope. You might know the story that Ray Henderson, Bud De Sylva, and Lew Brown — responsible for many hits — decided to write the worst song they could, with every tear-jerking cliche, and the result was SONNY BOY, which — with Al Jolson’s fervent performance (and his adding his name to the credits) was a million-seller.
I don’t know if the SONNY BOY story is true, but there’s something about CRADLE OF LOVE that hints at its composers asking themselves what they could do to assure themselves a hit.
First, pick a very optimistic premise: the young couple, so in love, in their tiny rural paradise which will be paid off in a year; they have chickens; their neighbors love them; they will have a baby soon. Fecundity, domesticity, domestic bliss, prosperity — pleasing dreams, especially in January 1929 with no hint of the Crash to come. Home, young love, sex, and chickens! And yes, the song is very close to MY BLUE HEAVEN, which made a great deal of money not too long before.
Second, invent a melody with an irresistible hook that sounds much like MAKIN’ WHOOPEE (a song with a clearly divergent view of domestic bliss, curdled) and put the two together. The one touch of realism in this dream-world is that the neighbors “smile / most of the while” (my emphasis). Why there are these noticeable lapses in grinning is never explained, especially since “all” would have worked just as well in the line. Perhaps Wayne and Gilbert had some scruples.
CRADLE OF LOVE should have been memorable, but didn’t become so. However, there’s so much that pleases me in these recordings (there are rumors of a third non-vocal version, made for the German market, but I don’t know anyone who has heard it). The Miller band just sounds good, and they balance their instrumental work and the “hot” solos so beautifully. (Yes, the question has been asked, “Why two trumpet / cornet improvisations on the same — white — dance band record?” to which I have no answer.) It means a great deal to me that the statement of the verse is a wonderful early Muggsy Spanier episode, as well. I don’t feel the need to mock Bob Nolan, either. And Eddy Davis was telling me, a few weeks ago, about working with pianist Art Gronwall — to which I could only say, “Wow!” The rhythm section has a nice bounce, and the trombone interlude reminds me cheerfully of Miff Mole.
So I invite you to listen, to put aside preconceptions, and simply enjoy.
and, just because YouTube makes it possible for me to share it with you, here is the Paul Whiteman version recorded fourteen days earlier, an entirely different orchestral rendition, with a lovely Trumbauer bridge near the end:
Slightly more than ten months after the Miller recording, the stock market crash changed everyone’s lives. I hope the young couple had paid off every stick and stone before then, and could make a living selling eggs. How the toad plays into this I can’t imagine, but I hope (s)he and others prospered. Otherwise it’s too dire to contemplate.
Note: readers who feel a pressing need to extend the Bix-or-not-Bix discussion will not find their comments printed here. Enough idolatry, thanks. I don’t think it’s Bix — but it’s my blog and I have some privileges therein.
This post is for my dear friend, the fine young trombonist Joe McDonough, who worships at the Teagarden shrine. A few days ago, I began to collect orts, fragments, and holy relics (from the treasure house of eBay and elsewhere) for him, and for you. Along with Louis, Sid Catlett, and Teddy Wilson, Jack was one of my earliest jazz heroes — and he remains one, memorably. Wonderful pieces of paper follow below, but no tribute to Jack could be silent. Although there are many versions of his hits in his discography, he made more superb recordings than many other players and singers. Here’s one of his late masterpieces, a sad song that reveals Jack as a compelling actor in addition to everything else. The trumpet is by Don Goldie:
and an early one, with support from Vic Berton and frolics from Joe Venuti:
and since we can, here’s another take (who knows at this point which is the master and the alternate?):
And the 1954 LOVER, with an astonishing cast: Jack, Ruby Braff, Sol Yaged, Lucky Thompson, Denzil Best, Milt Hinton, Kenny Kersey, Sidney Gross:
An early favorite of mine, the 1947 AUNt HAGAR’S BLUES, with beautiful work from Eddie Condon, Wild Bill Davison, and Pee Wee Russell:
And now, some pieces of paper. Remarkable ones!
Pages from an orchestral score for SUMMERTIME (title written in by Jack):
The seller of some of these treasures has a pleasing explanation, which I offer in full:
This is the score for Jack TEAGARDEN, when he performed in bands and orchestras, throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Jack TEAGARDEN was known as the jazz singer and jazz trombonist, who was an innovator at both. He was famous for playing trombone with the best – Paul WHITEMAN, the Dorseys, Louie Armstrong, etc., etc.
Teagarden’s wife, Addie was a great personal friend, throughout the 1980s. She shared some of Jack’s personal effects, including this historic and valuable score for “Summertime”, which Jack actually used in studio and on stage. This is a genuine original score. What a great piece of jazz and musical history.
Jack’s part on trombone is designated (in a small rectangle), on each of six, large, hand-written score sheets from Los Angeles and San Bernardino, California. The front of the sheets, when closed, has the words, Summer time, which have been doodled, by Jack.
I will be selling other TEAGARDEN and Louis Armstrong memorabilia, over the next year.
Weldon Leo “Jack” Teagarden (August 20, 1905 – January 15, 1964) was a jazz trombonist and singer. According to critic Scott Yannow of Allmusic, Teagarden was the preeminent American jazz trombone player before the bebop era of the 1940s and “one of the best jazz singers too”. Teagarden’s early career was as a sideman with the likes of Tommy Dorsey, Paul Whiteman and lifelong friend Louis Armstrong before branching out as a bandleader in 1939 and specializing in New Orleans Jazz-style jazz until his death.
At my age (77), I am beginning to sell a lifelong, eclectic, collection of unique artwork. I enjoyed this great collection. Now, it’s time to share it with others.
Is it “Milly” or “Willy”? Jack wished her or him the best of everything:
In 1936 and perhaps 1937, Jack was one-third of a small band aptly called THE THREE T’s. Here’s a page from a fan’s autograph book (selling for 449.95 or thereabouts on eBay):
in 1940, Jack either played a Martin trombone or advertised one, or both:
Some years later, the Belgian label issued BOOGIE WOOGIE by Jack — which is from his 1944 transcription sessions:
And this is a Billboard ad for that same or similar band:
At the end of the Swing Era, when big bands were dissolving and throwing their leaders into deep debt, Jack got telegrams, at least one decidedly unfriendly:
Jack inscribed this photograph to the Chicago photographer Nat Silberman:
and the newspaper advertisement for Jack’s last gig, at the Dream Room in New Orleans — where Connie Jones was with him:
At the end of the trail, Jack’s headstone with its very moving inscription, although I wonder if those sweet moving words were his idea:
You might know the inspiring exhortation, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” The quite remarkable Colin Hancock has put his own inventive spin on that, and I imagine “Be the music you want to hear!” is his motto. I’ve written about Colin and his Original Cornell Syncopators as they appeared at the San Diego Jazz Fest last year (dig in here) and they will be appearing in San Diego again this November: make plans here!
And I had the pleasure of seeing the larger unit in New York very recently: hot evidence here.
Colin Hancock by 2E Photography
But this post is not about the wonderful young people who make up Colin’s bands. All respect to them, no. This post is about Colin, the one, the only. The dazzling multi-instrumentalist and recording engineer and Imaginer, the young man who gets inside the music rather than copying its most obvious features.
Over the summer, Colin made some records. That might not raise an intrigued eyebrow until you learn that he plays all the instruments on these records (and sings on one), that they are brilliantly loving evocations of time, place, and style, with no artificial ingredients. They aren’t tricks or stunts: they are MUSIC.
There is, of course, a tradition of one-man-band records: Sidney Bechet for Victor, Humphrey Lyttelton’s ONE MAN WENT TO BLOW, and more — but Colin’s are deeper and more thoughtfully lovely than simply ways to show off multiple expertises. What he’s done is make beautiful little alternative universes: imagine if __________ band had played ___________: what would it sound like? Some bands have no single historical antecedents: they exist only in his wide imagination. And the results are amazing on their own terms: play one, without identifying it, for a hot jazz fan, and see what she says; play one for a deeply scholarly hot jazz fan and hear the encomia, because the music is just right, imaginative as well as idiomatically wise.
Here’s an example, evoking Johnny Dunn’s Jazz Hounds:
a splendid visit to Red Hot Chicago:
and a tender creation honoring Bix, Tram, Lang, and their circle, casting admiring side-glances at Benny and Jimmy McP:
finally (for this post) a frolic, Mister Hancock on the vocal chorus:
You can hear more of Colin’s startling magic on his YouTube channel here. And there’s a brand-new interview of this wondrous trickster here.
Fats Waller would have called Colin “a solid sender” or perhaps “a killer-diller from Manila!” but I think, perhaps more sedately, of Colin as someone who likes to imagine aural parties and then generously invites all to join him. What gifts!
The days are getting shorter, darker, and cooler. There’s little that I can do to combat this, but I offer this third part of a glorious August afternoon as a palliative for the descent into winter.
Thanks to the energetic Brice Moss, I was able to attend and record a lovely outdoor session featuring The New Wonders — Mike Davis, cornet, vocal, arrangements; Jay Lepley, drums; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone and miscellaneous instrument; Joe McDonough, trombone, Ricky Alexander, reeds; Jared Engel, plectrum banjo. There’s group singing here and there, which is its own idiomatic delight. This is the third of three posts: here is part one, and here is part two — both segments full of wondrous hot music.
And now . . . . a Hot one in Hot slow-motion, no less steamy — NOBODY’S SWEETHEART:
Did someone say “The Chicago Loopers”? Here’s CLORINDA, with vocal quartet:
A serious question for sure, ARE YOU SORRY?
Another paean to the South from songwriters who may have gone no deeper than Battery Park, THAT’S THE GOOD OLD SUNNY SOUTH:
We’d like it to be a valid economic policy — THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE:
DEEP BLUE SEA BLUES, with a surprising double for Jay Rattman:
Who needs an umbrella? I’M WALKING BETWEEN THE RAINDROPS:
and an emotional choice, I’D RATHER CRY OVER YOU:
Deep thanks, as before, to Brice, family, friends, and to these splendid musicians, for making an Edenic idea come to life.
And I don’t have the delicious artifact yet, but The New Wonders did and have finished their debut CD. I am willing to wager that it will live up to the band name. Details as I know them.
Some people make great art happen without ever picking up an instrument, and Brice Moss is one of them. I first met him at a concert of Mike Davis’ band, The New Wonders, in downtown Manhattan, about eighteen months ago.
Brice is very friendly and articulate, tall and beautifully dressed, but what’s more important is that he is a card-carrying Enthusiast for Twenties hot jazz. And although he loves the recordings and lives to go see and hear the best hot bands, he does more than that. Evidence below.
A Brice Moss lawn party, a few years back, with Vince Giordano, Andy Stein, Evan Arntzen, Jon-Erik Kellso, Harvey Tibbs, and Ken Salvo.
Brice gives yearly lawn parties where his favorite bands play. I asked him to say something about his generosity-in-action, and he wrote, “I work in social service, in the not-for profit sector, so even with saving up, I can only do these every year or so. I can think of no more joy-inducing way to spend my meager dough than by hiring the world class musicians we are lucky to have in our vicinity. As does everyone else, I love the Nighthawks, whom my parents saw weekly since the seventies.
I am smitten by Mike Davis and his guys too. Mike always sings the lyrics, often including introductory verses I had never heard before. They do wonderful vocal harmonies. They are intimate, understated, true to the period and despite differences of instrumentation, very true to the original recordings of the tunes. Pure delight! This is the fourth time I’ve been lucky enough to be able to bring a band up. Last year was Mike and The New Wonders as well. The summer before that was a subset of the Nighthawks. I have also, a couple of years back, had a New Year’s Eve party where I was fortunate to have Vince, Peter Mintun, Mark Lopeman, Bill Crow, and Andy Stein.”
So this summer, when Brice invited me to come up to his lawn party (at a location alternatively identified as Croton-on-Hudson, Yorktown Heights, or Ossining — depending on the whims of your GPS) I was eager, especially when he said the band would not object if I brought my camera. I thus had the odd and splendid experience of being able to hear and see hot jazz out-of-doors in the most gorgeous pastoral setting. I also got to meet Brice’s quite delightful family: his mother Anne; son Odysseus; his daughter Aubrey; his sister Liana. In addition, I got to chat again with Ana Quintana, and petted the New Wonders’ mascot, Chester.
And there was glorious music by Mike Davis, cornet and vocal; Jay Lepley, drums; Jared Engel, banjo; Jay Rattman, bass sax and miscellaneous instrument; Ricky Alexander, reeds; Joe McDonough, trombone. (Mike also sings splendidly — earnestly but loosely — on many tracks, and there’s also band vocals and band banter.)
The band takes its name from a particular line of instruments manufactured by the Conn people in the Twenties, and Mike plays a Conn New Wonder cornet. The New Wonders stay pretty seriously in the Twenties, offering pop songs of the day, jazz classics — both transcribed and improvised on — and homages to Bix and Tram, Paul Whiteman, Cliff Edwards, the California Ramblers, Red Nichols and Miff Mole, and more.
A great deal of beautifully-played hot jazz was offered to us that August afternoon. Here are the first seven tunes, one for each day of the week.
I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS (fortunately, this song title did not come true at Brice’s party):
THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW (with the verse and a second chorus and a third — how much music the New Wonders can, like their ancestors, pack into three minutes):
MY GAL SAL (thinking of the pride of Ogden, Utah):
ONE LITTLE KISS (their homage to Cliff Edwards and the Eton Boys, nobly done):
TAKE YOUR TOMORROW (thinking of Bix and Tram):
There are two more lavishly Edenic segments to come. Not blasphemous, just paradisical.
Late in the previous century, I had my fascination with the recordings of Bing Crosby intensified by the opportunity to listen to two decades of his records in chronological order. And although some see his career as an inevitable descent into “popular music,” I could always hear the glowing beauty of his voice, his wonderful phrasing, his direct appeal to the listener. He never seemed detached when he sang, even if the song was at first an odd choice for those who, like myself, grew up on his recordings of YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME, DANCING IN THE DARK, PLEASE, and dozens of other masterpieces. I think of Michael Brooks reminding us of the splendor of Crosby’s HOME ON THE RANGE, for one glorious example.
Although Johnny Mercer deserves his fame as songwriter and lyricist, I also encountered him early as a charmingly eccentric singer — the SIZZLING ONE-STEP MEDLEY with Trumbauer, THE BATHTUB RAN OVER AGAIN, and LORD, I GIVE YOU MY CHILDREN. Later Mercer vocals — for instance, MOON RIVER — have the sadness of a mature artist, but the ones I came to love first had a delicious impish puckishness to them, as if he was about to burst into helpless laughter at any point — which he didn’t, being an expert jester in complete control.
This 1938 recording, pairing the two, is an absolute favorite of mine: it exists at the crossroads of Swing, Vaudeville, and Jive: Bing and Johnny playing around with an ancient (even then) musical-vaudeville routine, MISTER GALLAGHER AND MISTER SHEAN, updated to be satirically hip, with new lyrics by Mercer.
Although everything here is scripted (unless perhaps a few of the ad-libs were invented in rehearsal) the whole performance has a goofy splendor, with Mercer’s lyrics both hilarious and intentionally vaudevillian; the splendid expertise of this hot band, evident even when they don’t have as much to do as jazz fans would have wished: Sullivan’s written phrase at the start, Secrest’s quiet obbligati; Spike’s rollicking old-time drumming; Lincoln’s slides. And the obvious joy Bing and Johnny exude, the sheer fun they are having.
I could close my eyes and see them nattily attired in updated 1922 vaudeville garb (straw boaters and striped jackets) pretending to teach us all about Swing — notice, it’s a lesson that “Johnny” doesn’t want at all, which is perhaps the best joke of all, for 1938-and-onwards listeners expecting this to be the triumph of “Modern” over “Old-Time,” which turns on itself when “Sorta Lombardo, Mister C!” is delivered in a completely authentic bluesy drawl. Those who suggest that Bing never broke out of old-timey rhythmic patterns, never got in the groove in true (let us say Basie) fashion should listen closely: yes, he and Johnny imitate New Orleans rhythmic patterns in their asides, but everyone is swinging. Oh, there are levels and levels of art here, even though Jack Kapp would have imagined this as one of this all-star productions, sure to win a mass audience, sure to sell well. It continues to delight me, and I hope it does the same for you.
Bing and Johnny are perfectly accompanied by Victor Young’s Small Fryers : Andy Secrest, cornet; Abe Lincoln, trombone; Jack Mayhew, clarinet; John Cascales, tenor saxophone; Joe Sullivan, piano; Perry Botkin, guitar; Jim “Slim” Taft, string bass; Spike Jones, drums. Los Angeles, July 1, 1938.
Before you ask, “Who are they and if they’re any good, why haven’t I heard of them?” please listen to their version of BLUE GRASS BLUES:
Now, that’s seriously interesting to me because it sounds genuine — it’s not 1925 heard through the perspective of 2017 (no one inserts a favorite Real Book lick in where it doesn’t belong).
St. Louis jazz is not the subject of too much historical analysis: the attentive among us know about Charlie Creath and Clark Terry, Joe Thomas, Dewey Jackson, Trumbauer’s orchestra with Bix and Pee Wee, even the upstart son of Doctor Davis the affluent dentist. I knew the Mound City Blue Blowers, Gene Rodemich, the Arcadian Serenaders, and the Missourians, but I’d never heard of the Searcy Trio, Powell’s Jazz Monarchs, or Harry’s Happy Four.
Here’s a “live one,” wordplay intentional:
The players on this 2016 CD are TJ Miller, trumpet, comb, vocal; Chloe Feoranzo, clarinet, C-melody saxophone; Kellie Everett, bass saxophone, tenor saxophone, kazoo; Jacob Alspach, trombone, tenor banjo, vocal; Kyle Butz, trombone; Joe Park, plectrum banjo, guitar; Mary Ann Schulte, piano; Ryan Koenig, washboard, percussion, vocal; Matt Meyer, drums; Joey Glynn, upright bass. Our friend Mike Davis brings his cornet for A LITTLE BIT BAD.
Because the repertoire chosen by the SSS is often so obscure, it feels new. So it’s almost like discovering a new hot band playing authentic music that hasn’t had the shine rubbed off of it through overexposure. (JAZZ LIVES readers can compile their own — silent — list of famous although overplayed songs.) OZARK MOUNTAIN BLUES / THE DUCK’S YAS YAS YAS / SOAP SUDS / BLUE GRASS BLUES / RED HOT! / MARKET STREET STOMP / GO WON TO TOWN / SWINGING THE SWING / BLUE BLOOD BLUES / A LITTLE BIT BAD / AH! AH! ARCHIE / EAST ST. LOUIS STOMP / YOU AIN’T GOT NOTHIN’ I WANT / HOT STUFF / LAUGHING BLUES. (I consider myself knowledgeable about this period, but only a third of the titles immediately came to mind with connections to a particular band or recording.)
And it should be obvious that there’s beautiful energized hot music on this disc, the product of deep loving study to create artistic authenticity. This band has the Twenties in their bones, and no one — out of force of habit — brings a favorite Lee Morgan lick to a solo on a 1926 piece. Their playing feels real: no Dorothy Provine here, and the hot numbers romp and frolic, but without any over-respectful museum dustiness. I also note the total lack of condescension — some bands, when they go back before Basie or Bird, let a little hauteur be heard and felt in their work, as if saying, “Gee, these old guys were so primitive: no one would play with that vibrato today, but I will do it for this date” — not so the Shakers.
You should enjoy this one for yourself. The band’s Facebook page is here; the site for Big Muddy Records is here; you can download the session here.
You can fly to St. Louis very easily, but you can’t always visit the Twenties on your own: the Shakers are excellent tour guides.
Menno Daams is one of the great trumpet players (arrangers, composers, bandleaders) of our era, but, better yet, he is a sensitive imaginer, someone who understands intuitively how to make even the most familiar standards glisten.
He does it here in his brief but very fulfilling tribute to Hoagy Carmichael at the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, with the help of five kindred spirits who get the feeling and never lose it: Josh Duffee, drums; Graham Hughes, string bass; Martin Wheatley, guitar; Richard Exall, tenor saxophone; David Boeddinghaus, piano. (And — consciously or unconsciously, perhaps because one thinks of Louis and Hoagy in the same moment — there are two lovely delicate slow-motion homages to Louis as well. You’ll hear them.)
For RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, rather than go all the way back to Bix — with the Wolverines or with Trumbauer — Menno and band take what I would call a 1936 Fifty-Second Street approach to this song, with echoes of Berigan or Hackett, Forrest Crawford or Joe Marsala, Teddy Wilson or Joe Sullivan, Carmen Mastren, Sid Weiss, and Stan King — light-hearted yet potent):
A thoughtful, gentle exploration of LAZY RIVER:
Then, something gossamer yet imperishable, a medley of SKYLARK / STAR DUST that begins as a cornet-guitar duet, and then becomes a trio. But allow yourself to muse over David’s incredibly deep solo exposition:
And because we need a change from those subtle telling emotions, Menno offers an audio-visual comedy, then THANKSGIVING, featuring a rocking and rocketing solo by Josh. Appropriate, because I was thankful then and continue to be now:
The response to my first posting with videos of Hal Smith’s Swing Central from August 28 of this year has been so enthusiastic that I offer four more — with thematic connections to three of the greatest lyrical players of jazz: Bis Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Lester Young, and Pee Wee Russell. We know that Lester deeply admired the other three players, and it’s not hard to hear an emotional connection between Pee Wee and Pres when their clarinet explorations are the subject. Four great poets who also swung deliciously.
Swing Central is made up of Hal on drums, Jon Doyle on clarinet, Joshua Hoag on string bass, Dan Walton on piano, Jamey Cummins on guitar. This performance is from a swing dance gig at Central Market in Austin, Texas.
Before you plunge in, might I suggest that you be prepared to listen closely. This is a band that understands the pleasure of playing softly, of placing note after note and harmony upon harmony with great delicacy: yes, they can swing exuberantly (as in the final SUNDAY) but some of what follows is soft, tender, introspective — I think of Japanese paintings, where one brushstroke both is and has depths of implication. Allow this music to reverberate — placidly yet definitely — as you listen.
And the fine videos are the work of Gary Feist of Yellow Dog Films.
FOR NO REASON AT ALL IN C (an improvisation on I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN):
PEE WEE’S BLUES (with some real-life end-of-the-night tidying at the start, very atmospheric):
SUNDAY (that Jule Styne opus recorded by all four of these players):
I look forward to a happy future for this gratifying small orchestra, its music so pleasing.
Ray Skjelbred is a sculptor of sound and rhythm, transforming popular song and the blues in ways that surprise and delight. Here, he’s at the keyboard at the San Diego Jazz Fest, offering us magic that is both whimsical and deep. The original text for his rumination is a bouncy Walter Donaldson song from 1929, REACHING FOR SOMEONE (AND NOT FINDING ANYONE THERE), a situation we’ve all encountered. The song was a hit in 1929, and many will know the quicker-paced Whiteman and Trumbauer versions.
Thanks to the inventive singer-guitarist Meredith Axelrod, a friend of JAZZ LIVES, Ray was inspired to play this song at a much more melancholy tempo, appropriate to the situation the lyrics describe, and the result is lovely and haunting:
I hope that all that you desire is accessible, if not now, then someday soon.
Dan Block, Rob Adkins, Ehud Asherie at Casa Mezcal, October 25, 2015
Rob Adkins (string bass and catalyst) brought two of his illustrious friends to Casa Mezcal on Orchard Street in New York City for a Sunday afternoon gig on October 25th — the inventive pianist Ehud Aherie and the very lyrical swinging reedman Dan Block. Here‘s the first part of that afternoon’s Hymn to Beauty.
And four more.
WHO? (rarely played in jazz, but certainly linked to Lester via the odd and wonderful Glenn Hardman 1939 session):
I COVER THE WATERFRONT (from Louis to Billie to Lester to everyone):
BABY BROWN (written by Alex Hill but forever identified with Fats Waller):
I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA (Tram, Bix, and many more, including Jimmy Rushing):
Both Louis and Bing recorded this wonderfully emotional song in 1931, as did the Boswell Sisters and Sam Wooding. In the decade to come, Red Norvo, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Mundy, Artie Shaw, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Lionel Hampton, Bob Zurke and Joe Rushton, Harry James, Bobby Hackett, Wild Bill Davison, Frank Trumbauer, Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum. And that’s only its first decade, and only those performances that were recorded.
But we are also concerned with the more recent present — since I call this blog, with full intent, JAZZ LIVES. On November 30, 2014, a stellar ad hoc small band under the leadership of pianist, vocalist, composer, and fantasist Ray Skjelbred took the stand at the San Diego Jazz Fest, and performed this song.
Before they begin (after the little whimsical 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert interlude) — you can hear someone, perhaps Marc, warping its title into I SEE RENDERED DEER, but this is America and freedom of speech is said to prevail. The other nobilities on the stand are Hal Smith, drums; Beau Sample, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jim Buchmann, clarinet and saxello:
The mood, for those who know their antecedents, is more Boyce Brown – Wild Bill Davison (“The Collector’s Item Cats”) than Bing. But for those who haven’t had enough of this lovely song in its natural habitat, here is something rare and, even better, complete. Bing starred in several Mack Sennett shorts early in his career, often appearing as himself and delighting in the slapstick and broad verbal comedy. Here is I SURRENDER, DEAR:
To some, Fraunces Tavern at 54 Pearl Street in lower Manhattan is most famous as the spot where George Washington held a farewell dinner for his troops in 1789. Others like it because of their wonderfully extensive beer list and straightforward food — nice servers always, too. Also, it’s a fine place to bring the family if you’re coming or going to Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty.
For me, it’s a little-known hot spot of rhythm on Saturday afternoons from 1-4. I came there a few months ago to enjoy the hot music of Emily Asher’s Garden Party Trio [plus guest] — which you can enjoy here— fine rocking music.
But let us live in the moment! Here are four performances by Rob Adkins, string bass; Craig Ventresco, guitar (the legend from San Francisco and a friend for a decade); Mike Davis, cornet AND trombone.
“Trombone?” you might be saying. Mike is very new to the trombone — a number of months — and he was playing an instrument not his own. So he was a little sensitive about my making these performances public (those dangerous eyebrows went up and threatened to stay there) but I assured him that his playing was admirable, even if he was severe on himself. His cornet work is a complete delight. The music Rob, Craig, and Mike make is delicate and forceful, incendiary and serene. You’ll see and hear for yourself on these four performances. Rob swings out with or without the bow, by the way.
LILA, which I associate with a Frank Trumbauer / Bix Beiderbecke OKeh — a song I’ve never heard anyone play live, so thank you!
WHISPERING, which was once one of the most-played songs in this country and is now terribly obscure:
WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, with memories of Paul Whiteman, Bing Crosby, Andy Secrest, Bix Beiderbecke, and Irving Berlin:
ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, another Berlin classic, this performance evoking Red Nichols and Miff Mole:
And although it gets me in trouble with some people every time I write it, these three musicians are not necrophiliac impersonators. They know the old records — those cherished performances — intimately and lovingly, and the records might act as scaffolding, but they are not restricted to copying them. (Ironically, this session reminds me more than a little of the lovely impromptu recordings made by Johnny Wiggs and Snoozer Quinn, although those two musicians didn’t have the benefit of a wonderful string bassist of Rob’s caliber in the hospital.)
There will be more to come from this Saturday’s glorious hot chamber music performance. And this coming Saturday (August 1) Rob Adkins has asked trombonist Matt Musselman and guitarist Kris Kaiser to start the good works. I know they will.