Tag Archives: Franz Hoffmann

JULY 21, 1975: NICE, NICER, NICEST

 

“La grande parade du jazz” is what the people in charge of the Nice Jazz Festival called it in the last half of the 1970s.  And that it was for sure.  Here, through the good offices of the scholar Franz Hoffmann, is a nearly ten-minute SWEET GEORGIA BROWN with sixteen of the great players (Bob Wilber and Marty Grosz, still happily with us) participating.

Twelve horns in the front line might mean chaos, but there is expert, funny traffic direction here by experienced musicians who knew (this was the last performance of a set) that allowing everyone to play three choruses could extend the performance well past plausibility.  And SWEET GEORGIA BROWN is so familiar that no one could mess up the chords on the bridge.  And although the director / cinematographer on some of these Nice videos made them hard to watch by cutting from one angle to another every few seconds, here the editing is much more sedate and pleasing.

The performance is full of sweet little touches — the affectionate respect these musicians had for each other and the idiom.  After an ensmble where — even amidst all the possibility for clamor — Bobby Hackett is audibly leading, with mutters from Vic Dickenson, which then turns into a very characteristic propulsive Art Hodes solo, all his traits and signatures beautifully intact.  Watch Barney Bigard’s face as Maxim Saury plays a patented Bigard motive, how amused and pleased he is with the younger man’s tribute, and how he (Barney, that is) pays close attention afterwards.  (For what it’s worth, Herb Hall and Barney sound so sweetly demure after Saury.)  After some inaudible asides, Alain Bouchet (brave man!) trades phrases with a very impressive Hackett, then, before any kind of disorder can take over, Vic takes control over the trombone section, with Willcox and Hubble having fun playing at being Vic.  A conversation between Dick Sudhalter and Pee Wee Erwin reveals two concise lyricists; Bob Wilber, so durable and so profound, soars through his choruses (notice Wingy trying to break in after the first).  Wingy takes his turn in opposition to a beautifully-charged Hackett, with supporting riffs coming in for the second chorus (Hackett quotes WITH PLENTY OF MONEY AND YOU, so gorgeously) before the whole ensemble charges for the exit, Moustache commenting underneath, his four-bar break hinting at a deep study of Cliff Leeman:

Wingy Manone, Bobby Hackett, Alain Bouchet, Pee Wee Erwin, Dick Sudhalter, cornet / trumpet; Vic Dickenson, Eddie Hubble, Spiegel Willcox, trombone; Barney Bigard, Herb Hall, Maxim Saury, clarinet; Bob Wilber, clarinet, soprano saxophone; Art Hodes, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Placide Adams, string bass; Moustache Galepides, drums.

Almost ten minutes of bliss, with no collisions and no train wrecks.  And if you care to, on the third or fourth viewing, watch the musicians themselves closely — the ones who aren’t playing, as they smile and silently urge their friends, colleagues, and heroes on.  Their love is tangible as well as audible.

It’s a cliche to write that “Giants walked the earth,” but this summer performance proves the truism true.  And one of the most dear of the giants — never in stature — the blessed Bobby Hackett — wouldn’t live another full  year.  Oh, what we lost.

For more from Franz Hoffmann, and he has marvels, visit his YouTube channel.

May your happiness increase!

A DREAM WE CAN SEE — JATP IN EUROPE: ROY ELDRIDGE, COLEMAN HAWKINS, DON BYAS, BENNY CARTER, LALO SCHIFRIN, SAM JONES, JO JONES (November 25, 1960, Paris)

Recorded at the Salle Pleyel in Paris on November 25, 1960 — directed by Jean-Christophe Averty. Roy Eldridge, trumpet; Benny Carter, alto saxophone; Don Byas, Coleman Hawkins, tenor saxophone; Lalo Schifrin, piano; Sam Jones, string bass; Jo Jones, drums.

Brought to you through the kind diligence of the indefatigable Franz Hoffmann.

TAKE THE “A” TRAIN:

BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA:

I don’t have my Verve recordings of the JATP in Europe tour to compare these with, but even if the television broadcasts are identical to the recordings, what rapture to see these men in their prime!  (And even if Jo’s lengthy solo on INDIANA was by this time a set-piece, how remarkable to have it on film to see and study.)

Yes, giants did walk the earth.  Tell it to the children.

May your happiness increase!

MORE ABOUT THAT WONDERFUL PARTY ON FILM (1935): THANKS TO MARK CANTOR

Just yesterday, I stumbled into a delight (thanks to Franz Hoffmann and Tom Saunders) — a YouTube video offering musical selections from a 1935 Oscar Micheaux film: music by Clarence Williams, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Hank Duncan, Cecil Scott, Jimmy McLin, and Eunice Wilson.  Here is that posting, with a link to the film.

That is a kind of delicious time-warp experience in itself.  Soon after, my friend, the most eminent / diligent jazz film scholar I know, Mark Cantor, asked me if I’d like to know more — and I not only said YES! but asked if he would mind if I shared his work with you.  Generously, he agreed.  And here it is.

CELLULOID IMPROVISATIONS by MARK CANTOR

Lem Hawkins’ Confession featuring Clarence Williams and his Jazz Band

I. Introduction: Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, Lem Hawkins’ Confession, and the Leo Frank Lynching

In Names & Numbers #61, within the general text of the Clarence Williams “Personnelography” (part 4), a pair of Oscar Micheaux feature films are cited as containing appearances by Clarence Williams. In point of fact, however, Williams is present in only one of these films, Lem Hawkins’ Confession (also known as Murder In Harlem). In light of the work that has been done with Williams’s recordings, personnels and solos, it makes sense to share what details are available regarding his sole film appearance. The second film noted in the article, Oscar Micheaux’s Swing, features the orchestra of Leon “Bossman” Gross, with Dolly Armina Jones added as a featured trumpet soloist. This film is a topic worthy of a detailed discussion in itself, although it should be noted here that Clarence Williams does not appears in the film: alto sax Leon Gross is the leader of the band, and the pianist is Arthur Briggs. To eliminate any further misunderstandings, it must be noted that the music track by Clarence Williams used in the SOUNDIE “Sweet Kisses,” which features dance performances by The Mitchell Brothers, Evelyn Keyes and other, with no band on screen, is not a unique recording for the producer, W.F.C. Productions, but rather one of Williams’s Lang-Worth broadcast transcriptions.

Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951) is often cited as the greatest of early African-American filmmakers. While this is certainly open to discussion — the films of Spencer Williams are often more coherent, and those of William Alexander better made in terms of production values — one cannot argue with the talent and tenacity that Micheaux displayed in getting some forty-plus features produced and distributed between 1921 and 1949. Micheaux saw musical entertainment as an important factor in his films, both because audiences had come to expect cabaret scenes in black cast features, but also because musical performances could extend the length of a feature with relatively little additional cost, or risk of mistakes by less experienced actors and actresses. Lem Hawkins’ Confession contains an extended fifteen minute cabaret sequence in which a great deal of music and dance is seen and heard as the plot continues to develop. The music of Clarence Williams’ band aside, which is discussed in detail below, Lem Hawkins’ Confession is one of Micheaux’s most ambitious projects.

Based on his original novel, The Forged Note (1915), the story was first filmed by Micheaux in 1921 as The Gunsaulus Mystery. On-screen credits also note the story The Stanfield Murder Case as an addition source of the film’s plot. Both the novel, story and film were based, in turn, on the notorious Leo Frank case, in which a Jewish factory superintendent in Atlanta, Georgia, was convicted of the murder of 13 year old factory worker Mary Phagan. Leo Frank’s sentence was commuted to life in prison due to what the governor saw as a miscarriage of justice. In August 1915 Frank was kidnapped from prison and lynched by a mob of prominent Atlanta civic leaders. Later evidence suggests that the factory janitor, Jim Conley, actually committed the murder, although that has never been proved. What is known is that a mob, including a former governor of the state, two mayors (one of whom was still in office), three law enforcement officers and a number of other prominent citizens lynched Leo Frank on August 5, 1915. While this became the foundation of the story filmed in 1935 as Lem Hawkins’ Confession, Micheaux altered the story considerably, to the point of eliminating the lynching, in his screen adaptation.

As is sometimes the case with Micheaux films, the narrative is somewhat convoluted and often unclear, made even muddier by the constant use of flashbacks. It is important to note that the film is not a strict retelling of the Leo Frank case — the historical case is used as a very loose “frame” — and that Micheaux added a number of secondary plots; as noted above, Micheaux did not end the film with a lynching. A full and fairly accurate synopsis of the film can be found at the American Film Institute web site (http://www.afi.com). Here we are primarily concerned with the nightclub sequence in which all of the music is performed. The details of the musical content of the film follows a brief description of the film’s production.

II. The Production of the Film

According to on-screen credits, Lem Hawkins’ Confession (along with the three Micheaux features that preceded it) were produced for Oscar Micheaux Pictures by A. Burton Russell. However, this is a nom-de-production of sorts for Alice B. Russell, Micheaux’s second wife. The Russell family would probably not have been able to invest in a project such as this one, and we are still two years away from the time that Sack Enterprises would be become involved in the financing of Micheaux’s films. Where Micheaux got the funding for this film, probably in the neighborhood of $15,000, is unknown. Relatively little is known about the actual production of the film, although further information about the plot, casting of actors and so forth can be found in Patrick McGilligan’s Oscar Micheaux – The Great and Only (Harper Perennial, 2008). The only known advertisement in the press (New York Amsterdam News, May 11, 1935) notes that the “Premiere New York showing” of the feature would be held that week at the Apollo Theater. While it is somewhat unusual to find copyright registrations for black cast films, this feature was indeed registered for copyright with the Library of Congress, along with a handful of other film produced by Oscar Micheaux on August 23, 1935. This informationallows us to estimate a production date as between fall 1934 (so claimed by McGilligan) and spring 1935. Lem Hawkins’ Confession was released in the late summer or early fall of 1935. At some point in time the film was reissued as Murder In Harlem, with the new titled used for release in the South. Other sources suggest that the film was re-released yet again as Brand of Cain, although this has not been verified, and Brand of Cain may actually be an early pre-production title.

While a production location has not been established, Micheaux would have probably worked at a rental stage in Fort Lee, New Jersey, although other facilities were also available in Manhattan. My suspicion is that it would have taken no more than a week, or perhaps 10 days, to shoot the entire film. Micheaux produced, directed and wrote the feature. He also gathered a group of technicians who were quite likely inexperienced in film production, but nevertheless able to help Micheaux turn out a fascinating dramatic piece. With the exception of recording engineers Harry Belock and Charles Nason, none of the men involved in the production appear to have made a film before this feature, and none turns up in the credits of any subsequent film. While none of his cast members appeared regularly in major Hollywood productions, many of were cast fairly often in black cast films of the period. Among the more familiar names are Clarence Brooks, Alec Lovejoy, Laura Bowman, Bee Freeman, Eunice Wilson and “”Slick” Chester.

III. The Music: Clarence Williams and his Band

Although he is not credited on-screen, the band featured in the extended cabaret sequence is led by Clarence Williams. As musical director of the band, and presumably the entire floor show, Williams leads the combo, but does not play piano. Indeed, two well-known Harlem stride pianists sit side-by-side at the piano: to the front, almost certainly sits Hank Duncan, and to the rear, Willie “The Lion” Smith. (Smith’s trademark cigar can be seen in freeze frames of the duo.) Regrettably, there is no band feature per se, and neither Duncan nor Smith can be seen or clearly heard as soloists. The band includes two reeds, a musician who doubles on clarinet and tenor sax, and an alto sax. The first musician, seated to the left, is Cecil Scott. Not only has Howard Rye identified Scott aurally (Storyville Magazine no. 132, page 209), but Scott can be visually identified as well: compare the image of the musician here with Cecil Scott as he appears a decade later in four SOUNDIES produced for Filmcraft Productions. The alto sax who sits to Scott’s right is less easy to identify, but to my eyes it appears that this is Louis Jordan. While Jordan was a member of Chick Webb’s orchestra at this time, he had freelanced with Williams the previous year, and he recorded at least four titles with Williams in March 34; one of the numbers from this session, Williams’ “I Can’t Dance (I’ve Got Ants In My Pants) was repeated in this film. Mr. Rye is very astute in hearing a trumpet on soundtrack, especially because the musician can be seen only briefly on screen. While it seems logical that this might be Ed Allen, from what little can be seen of the musician on screen, it does not look like Allen to me. Howard also hears a string bass on soundtrack, but I can neither hear the bass, nor locate a bass player on screen. The band is rounded out by a guitarist, who I am certain is Jimmy McLin.

Two other performers appear with the band, an unidentified male tap dancer, and vocalist Eunice Wilson. Wilson was a popular singer and dancer who presumably appeared as a club and stage performer in the Chicago and New York City areas. Three notices in Franz Hoffman’s Jazz Advertised cite performances around the time of the film’s production. The Chicago Defender (November 12, 1932) notes that Wilson will appear at a Thanksgiving Party at the Regal Theater, along with Earl Hines and his Orchestra. In June 1934 it is reported that she will be one of many on stage in a National Auditions Benefit Show, also at the Regal Theater, this time backed by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra. ` In late 1934 Wilson appeared in a Warner Brothers / Vitaphone one reel short, All Colored Vaudeville Show, filmed in Brooklyn and released the following year. In this short subject Wilson appears with a small rhythm quintet billed as The Five Racketeers, personnel unknown. Her vocal feature is a song by Leonard Reed titled “I Don’t Know Why,” which is followed by a dance to “Tiger Rag.” Subsequent to the production of the Micheaux feature Ms. Wilson sailed to London (May 1936) as a member of the Lew Leslie Blackbirds troupe. More than a decade passes before we hear from Eunice Wilson again, this time in two final film appearances. No Time For Romance (Norwanda Pictures, 1948) stars Wilson, and also features a jazz combo led by Austin McCoy; it is the first black cast film to have been produced in color. Sun Tan Ranch was made the same year, with a similar cast, and is probably also a Norwanda Production.

Detailing the music in the cabaret sequence is difficult for a number of reasons. Save for the vocal and dance features, the music is played in the background, largely behind dialog, sometimes in complete performance, sometimes as a partial take. In addition, Micheaux’s rather rough editing, plus jump cuts resulting from damage to the master print over the years, makes it somewhat unclear where some numbers begin and end. Further uncertainty revolves around the actual recording of the soundtrack. While some black cast musical performances from the period are clearly filmed and recorded simultaneously, I suspect that the soundtrack for this film was prerecorded, with the musicians miming to the playback. While it seems that certain short segments, and even longer performances, might be repeated behind the dialog, I think that it is equally likely that the soundtrack numbers were recorded in a number of takes that could be “recycled” during the sequence.

IV. Film and Music Details

Lem Hawkins’ Confession An A. Burton Russell Production Micheaux Pictures Corporation Oscar Micheaux, producer, director and writer produced ca. late fall 1934 – spring 1935 Clarence Williams, musical director Clarence Williams and his Band: Clarence Williams, vocal and leader; unidentified trumpet; Cecil Scott, clarinet and tenor sax; possibly Louis Jordan, alto sax; probably Hank Duncan, piano; Willie “The Lion” Smith, piano; Jimmy McLin, guitar Much of the music is heard behind dialog, or in support of vocal or dance performance. Regrettably, there is no feature for the band in the cabaret sequence. (1) Ants In My Pants (Clarence Williams) – Clarence Williams and his Band (Clarence Williams and members of the band, vocal) (2) Ants In My Pants (reprise) (largely behind dialog) – Clarence Williams and his Band (3) unidentified title, based on chord changes to “Ain’t Misbehavin’” with an altered release – unidentified male tap dancer, accompanied by Clarence Williams and his Band (4) Ants In My Pants (reprise) (largely behind dialog) – Clarence Williams and his Band (5) unidentified title, partially based on the chord changes to “Nobody’s Sweetheart Now” (largely behind dialog) – Clarence Williams and his Band (6) Ants In My Pants (reprise) (largely behind dialog) – Clarence Williams and his Band (7) Harlem Rhythm Dance (Clarence Williams) – Eunice Wilson, vocal and dance, accompanied by Clarence Williams and his Band (8) unidentified title, or perhaps two titles linked closely together, the second of which is definitely a repeat of # 5 above (largely behind dialog) – Clarence Williams and his Band.

V. Evaluation, Conclusions and Post Script

The problems inherent in evaluating black cast films are many, and perhaps more so with this film than with most. Like other orphan films (that is, a film without copyright owners or custodians to care for the material) or other “poverty row productions,” Lem Hawkins’ Confession is plagued by poor picture and sound quality, poor edits and lost footage, and inadequate camera coverage where the music performance is concerned. However, considering Clarence Williams’s important to the music —- as a pianist, bandleader, composer and entrepreneur —- the fact that his band was captured film and is available to us is significant. As Howard Rye point out in Storyville Magazine, the music is wholly consistent with what Williams was recording during this period. Interestingly enough, Film Daily (2/20/40) noted an upcoming film series that was to feature Williams and his music. Sadly, nothing seems to have developed from the proposition that a series of two reel musical shorts was to be produced on the East Coast by Clover Swing Productions. Al Ford was slated to produce, and the series was to feature Eva Taylor, with music by Clarence Williams. The first release titled, which never saw the light of day, was to be Money Mad. After the release of Lem Hawkins’ Confession, save for the use of his compositions in various films, Clarence Williams disappears from our history of jazz on film. Once again, as with so many jazz film appearance, we are left wanting so much more, but thankful for what we do have!  

(My note: if every scholar in any field did work as careful and diligent as this, it would transform what we now call “research.”  Thanks to Mark Cantor!)

May your happiness increase!

LIVE MUSIC IS EVERYTHING WHEN YOU HAVE A PARTY (1935)

murderinharlem1

I’ve always believed this, but now I have even more proof: visible and audible in excerpts from a 1935 Oscar Micheaux film, MURDER IN HARLEM (also called LEM HAWKINS’ CONFESSION) which has several scenes at a party, with extraordinary music provided by Clarence Williams and his Orchestra: Cecil Scott, clarinet / tenor saxophone; unknown tenor; Jimmy McLin, guitar; Willie “the Lion” Smith and Hank Duncan, piano; Eunice Wilson, vocal / dance; unknown tap dancer:

I believe that is Clarence himself singing I CAN’T DANCE (I GOT ANTS IN MY PANTS); the tap dancer works out to a themeless DOIN’ THE NEW LOW DOWN; the band returns to I CAN’T DANCE behind the odd “bogeyman” scene; Eunice Wilson shows off her talents to HARLEM RHYTHM DANCE.

Thanks to the eminent and diligent jazz scholar Franz Hoffmann for sharing this with us — it’s rather like discovering Leo Watson on film. (Thanks also to Tom Saunders for commenting on this on Facebook.)

Cecil’s sound is absolutely unmistakable — and the Lion AND Hank Duncan on film in their prime? Astonishing.

Who would have thought that a film with some connection to the 1913 Leo Frank case would have had such delightfully jubilant music?

May your happiness increase!

ON THE JAZZ TRAIN, MIRACULOUSLY, WITH GEORGE WEIN’S NEWPORT JAZZ ALL-STARS (April 17-19, 1961): RUBY BRAFF, VIC DICKENSON, PEE WEE RUSSELL, JIMMY WOODE, BUZZY DROOTIN

Thanks to the indefatigable Franz Hoffmann, this treasure!  Twenty-four minutes and thirty-five seconds of live music (and rare conversation) recorded between April 17 and 19, 1961, in Baden-Baden, Germany — by the Newport Jazz All Stars: Ruby Braff, cornet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; George Wein, piano; Jimmy Woode, string bass; Buzzy Drootin, drums.  The program is produced and narrated by the jazz scholar Joachim E. Berendt:

WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / CONVERSATIONS / C JAM BLUES:

SUGAR (Pee Wee) / LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

JAZZ TRAIN BLUES / WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE (Ruby):

I know that we have a million reasons to thank George Wein — going all the way back to Forties Boston and up to this very moment — but I propose that this band and his continued stewardship of NJF All-Star bands is something that hasn’t been sufficiently applauded.  At a time when most of these musicians would have been under-employed or under-paid, George had the foresight to get them gigs all around the world, to encourage them to play a loose personal version of the Mainstream jazz they created so beautifully (having an awfully good time at the piano, too).  Here we have a very vivid reminder of a beautiful band, fueled in equal parts by fun and generosity.

This post is dedicated with gratitude to all the musicians and to Franz Hoffmann, and it is especially for Mal Sharpe, Austin Casey, Destini Sneath, and anyone else who understands hot lyricism.  (And you can read more about this band in Tom Hustad’s monumental Ruby Braff discography, BORN TO PLAY.)

May your happiness increase.

“EVERYONE KNOWS HIS CREATIVE PERIOD WAS BEHIND HIM BY _______.”

Louis Armstrong reached his artistic peak somewhere before 1929, when his recording of commercial songs — I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE as opposed to POTATO HEAD BLUES — was ruinous.  Right?

As we say in my country, “Oh, please!”

You play what you are!  And Louis in 1954 and 1960 still embodied the deepest human truths of joy and sorrow.

These two videos are now available widely thanks to the tireless collector, historian, and archivist Franz Hoffmann.

The first, from May 9, 1954, is part of a wonderfully odd CBS-TV program,
“YOU ARE THERE: “THE EMERGENCE OF JAZZ,” which purports to recreate the closing of Storyville as if it were a news story happening at the moment.  In 1954, I wasn’t sufficiently sentient to have been watching this episode, but I gather that this neat gimmick allowed various actors to recreate events in history — with light brushes with accuracy and the help of Walter Cronkite to make it seem “real.”  Here, Louis was asked to become King Oliver, fronting his own All-Stars . . . all African-Americans, with the exception of drummer Barrett Deems, who had his face blacked to fit it.  The other band members are Barney Bigard, Trummy Young, Billy Kyle, Arvell Shaw.  In other segments, Louis Mitchell was played by Cozy Cole and Jelly Roll Morton by Billy Taylor. No doubt.  Here, much of the fun is that the Oliver band is “challenged” by an offstage White band — the Original Dixieland Jazz Band — impersonated by Bobby Hackett, Bill Stegmeyer, Lou Stein, Cliff Leeman, and Lou Mc Garity.  To see and hear Louis play BACK O’TOWN BLUES and read his lines is enough of a pleasure; to hear Louis and Bobby improvise on the SAINTS is a joy.

Six years later, with no faux-news report, just a substantial production for a BELL TELEPHONE HOUR (January 1, 1960), we see Louis in magnificent form (although this segment is taxing).  After SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET and LAZY RIVER — with the plastic mute Jack Teagarden made for him — there is one of the most touching episodes of Louis on film, beginning at 3:30.  If you ever meet anyone who doubts Louis’ sincerity, his acting ability, his skill in conveying emotion, please play them this video and let them hear and see the ways he approaches SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD, intensely moving.  Then the mood switches to an early-television meeting of Louis with an unidentified vocal quartet for MUSKRAT RAMBLE.  In all, eight minutes plus of wonderful music.

Louis sustains us as he sustained himself.

Thanks to Franz Hoffmann and of course to Ricky Riccardi, who has done so much to remind us that Louis never, ever stopped creating.

May your happiness increase.

“MISTER CRISTOFO COLOMBO”: BING, LOUIS, PHIL, FRANK, DOROTHY and MORE (1950)

Thanks to the tireless Franz Hoffmann, here is a Bing / Louis sighting I had never seen before — a staged “impromptu” romp on a train from HERE COMES THE GROOM, a 1950 film.  The “song” is in praise of Christopher Columbus, who in those Cold War times, is heralded as the man who made the unique freedoms of the USA possible.  Rather unsubtly.  The Commies were watching these musicals and trembling, perhaps, at the “opening of freedom’s door”?

I prefer Fats Waller’s version of the “discovery” of “America,” myself.

It seems that Bing enlisted all his friends for this Paramount film and this number: Dorothy Lamour, Louis, Phil Harris, Cass Daley, Frank Fontaine.  Austin J. Casey, connoisseur of such things, points out that the man to Bing’s left (twenty seconds) sang tenor with the Modernaires.  In some ways, it is a development of the bus-mania of the Thirties, where Clark Gable could get everyone to sing THE MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE in the 1934 IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT.

I find it a fascinating example of how cruel old-fashioned humor was and how (I hope) it seems painful now: Cass Daley’s crossed eyes are nothing to “Crazy Guggenheim,” Fontaine’s intellectually-challenged character — a staple of Jackie Gleason’s television shows — his “Crazy Guggenheim” a mask for his lovely singing voice.  But this was the era of the “moron” joke, so “Crazy” gets the last . . . word?

But any opportunity, no matter how vapid the material, to see Bing and Louis in each other’s company, uplifts.

May your happiness increase.

WOW! DECEMBER 29, 1940: LESTER YOUNG, SHAD COLLINS, J.C. HIGGINBOTHAM, SAMMY PRICE, HAROLD “DOC” WEST

Here’s the good news.  What many of us have only read about in discographies exists: discs preserving thirty minutes of a Village Vanguard jam session, overseen by Ralph Berton, then broadcasting jazz on the air on New York City’s municipal radio station, WNYC.

And thanks to the Library of Congress, National Public Radio, and the tireless Franz Hoffmann, we can hear two minutes and thirty-six seconds of a jump blues, caught in the middle of Lester’s solo.  The sound is good; the discs were well-preserved.

The less good news is that the NPR commentator (perhaps unconsciously modeling himself on Alistair Cooke) talks over the music at the start and it is such a brief excerpt.  But it gives one hope for more glorious jazz archaeology:

Thank you, Lester, Shad (trumpet); Higgy (trombone); Sammy Price (piano); Doc West (drums); Ralph Berton; anonymous WNYC engineer / recordist; the Library of Congress; National Public Radio; Franz Hoffmann.

May your happiness increase.

DRINK HEARTY!

Wonderful inducements to imbibing from Henry “Red” Allen. Thanks to the ever-diligent Franz Hoffmann for making our day brighter!  These 1958 Ballantine Ale jingles feature Jerry Jerome (and is that Milt Hinton I hear?) advertising a nice strong ale:

And about a decade earlier, Red (with J.C. Higginbotham and Don Stovall) offers some good advice:

Carry on, carry on!

May your happiness increase.

HOTTER THAN THAT: HENRY “RED” ALLEN AND FRIENDS, 1932-33

Thanks to the indefatigable jazz scholar Franz Hoffmann, here are four hot records featuring Henry “Red” Allen and Pee Wee Russell, Fats Waller, Tommy Dorsey, Eddie Condon, Zutty Singleton, among others.  The band name was the RHYTHMAKERS and Philip Larkin was not alone in thinking this series of hot records the apex of Western civilization.  You can see a variety of 78 record labels and photographs and read the personnel in Franz’s videos, but the real substance is the joyous music, unbridled but expert. 

OH, PETER:

YES SUH!:

SOMEONE STOLE GABRIEL’S HORN:

And an amazing 1933 jam-session-on-record on SWEET SUE, under the nominal leadership of UK composer / string bassist Spike Hughes — the participants are Allen, Dicky Wells, Coleman Hawkins, Chu Berry, Benny Carter, Wayman Carver (flute), Nicholas Rodriguez, Lawrence Lucie, and Sidney Catlett —

May your happiness increase.

WISE WORDS and HOT MUSIC from THE MASTER: HENRY “RED” ALLEN SPEAKS, 1966

Courtesy of Franz Hoffmann — here’s an excerpt from a 1966 BBC radio documentary tracing Henry “Red” Allen’s life, music, and friends — in this case, Eddie Condon and Fats Waller.  I hadn’t known that Bessie Smith came to this session . . . .

A thrill to hear the music and Allen’s easy acceptance of things — and his loving tribute to Eddie:

May your happiness increase.

EDDIE CONDON’S FLOOR SHOW (Nov. 16, 1948) CONCLUDED: JOHNNY MERCER, MARY LOU WILLIAMS, PEE WEE RUSSELL, BRAD GOWANS, and MORE

My goodness, there’s more!  That’s the closing performances of the Nov. 16, 1948 Eddie Condon Floor Show — audio only — with Wild Bill Davison, Brad Gowans, Pee Wee Russell, Mary Lou Williams, Dick Cary, Eddie, Jack Lesberg, George Wettling, Johnny Mercer, with commentary by Lord Buckley.

On DOWN AMONG THE SHELTERING PALMS, what might have seemed a novelty number suddenly opens up because of Mercer’s absolutely relaxed singing (with a touch of the giggles at one point) and lovely work from Brad, Pee Wee, and the rhythm section.

The SLOW BLUES keeps Johnny at the mike (with Wild Bill muttering behind him) — some witty lyrics which lead to that marvel, a Pee Wee stop-time blues performance (the video here is from the 197 THE SOUND OF JAZZ, by the way); a beautiful Wettling drum break takes it up and out we go, with Lord Buckley telling us all about the show next week, with Louis, Jack Teagarden, Barney Bigard, Earl Hines, Arvell Shaw, Sidney Catlett, and Velma Middleton.

As an aside, if you follow Charles Ellsworth Russell’s fortunes and career, wasn’t he apparently disintegrating in 1948, and with a great enmity towards Eddie Condon?  The music wouldn’t prove either of those contentions: he sounds positively elevated and not at all unhappy with the surroundings.  Perhaps history after the fact isn’t as substantial as the evidence.  And here’s another mystery: the cornetist who’s playing as the program is fading out is clearly Davison.  But the first horn soloist after Wettling’s break doesn’t sound like Bill, or Henry “Red” Allen for that matter.  I wonder, I wonder — will the experts in the audience listen in and tell me that I am wrong for thinking it to be my hero, the Atlas of the trumpet, HOT LIPS PAGE?  It wouldn’t be the first or last time Lips showed up at the Floor Show.

I don’t know if Channel 11 — WPIX-TV in New York City — even exists, but I’d guess that their programming in 2012 is not quite as surprising as this.  Thanks once again to the energetic Franz Hoffmann for opening the cornucopia . . . with more to come!

This one’s for Maggie, Romy, and Phyllis and Liza as well.

“ONE BLASTED SURPRISE AFTER ANOTHER”: THE EDDIE CONDON FLOOR SHOW (Nov. 16, 1948)

The title comes from surrealist-hipster-comedian Lord Buckley, who was master of ceremonies for this half hour of startling juxtapositions.  Thanks to magician Franz Hoffmann, we have the soundtrack and some non-synchronized film footage from the November 16, 1948 Eddie Condon Floor Show.*

I offer these videos not only as tribute to the individual artists, but as a kind of swinging rebuttal.  In the last thirty or so years, conventional jazz history has relegated Eddie Condon to, at best, a condescending footnote. “Yes, he organized early interracial recording sessions, but after that his music was no longer important.”  This is what the late Richard Ellmann called the “friend-of” syndrome: that Eddie is important only in his relations to Major Jazz Players Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller.  I beg to differ.  Evaluating creation by skin color has never been a good idea, and in this case it ignores a great deal of evidence.   

Eddie’s Floor Show reminds us, once again, how expansive Condon’s musical vision was.  Wild Bill Davison, Pee Wee Russell, Brad Gowans, Dick Cary, Jack Lesberg, and George Wettling are strongly present — but so is Johnny Mercer.  And Sidney Bechet, Henry “Red” Allen, Mary Lou Williams, Teddy Hale, Thelma Carpenter,  Pearl Primus, and Lord Buckley having a fine time satirizing both himself and the proceedings (with a quite accurate Louis Armstrong impersonation).  This is not simply a formulaic group of musicians gathered to read through MUSKRAT RAMBLE once again.  I would have Mr. Condon celebrated as a man who embodied jazz — not simply a pale shadow of its former glories.  Some faithful JAZZ LIVES readers may have noted my attempt to revise history so that everyone appreciates Eddie Condon: I won’t give up until everyone does. 

But music speaks louder than . . . .

So here, thanks to Franz, is the music from November 16, 1948.  More important than Milton Berle, boxing, or wrestling.  In his generous desire to give us a true multi-media experience, Franz has also offered still photos and video clips of the relevant artists: the matchup isn’t always perfect, but his efforts are a gift to us all. 

I AIN’T GONNA GIVE NOBODY NONE OF MY JELLY ROLL into HAPPY BIRTHDAY — vocal by Johnny Mercer, who was quite a singer:

CARAVAN — a feature for Mary Lou Williams:

JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS — featuring Sidney Bechet and the rhythm section:

CONGO DRUMS — perhaps hard to visualize Pearl Primus capering around the small screen, but she loved to dance to jazz accompaniment (there’s a picture of her at Gjon Mili’s 1943 jam session, where she is dancing, barefoot, to a little band playing HONEYSUCKLE ROSE . . . the little band is made up of Teddy Wilson, Bobby Hackett, Lou McGarity, Edmond Hall, Johnny Williams, and Sidney Catlett — a pretty fine pickup group!):

For me, what follows is the prize of the session — a new song for Henry “Red” Allen to sing, the rather tough-minded love ballad (after a fashion), I TOLD YA I LOVE YOU, NOW GET OUT (a song composed by the Soft Winds — John Frigo, Lou Carter, and Herb Ellis):

I don’t know whether having dancers on the show was Eddie’s idea or not, but someone understood that television was a visual medium — and while a band could play for an hour on radio, viewers needed other kinds of stimulation to keep their attention: hence a BLUES played as background for the brilliant tap-dancing of Teddy Hale:

A tribute to Louis by Wild Bill Davison, I’M CONFESSIN’:

And a neat combination of Johnny Mercer (whose lyrics we hear) and Thelma Carpenter on COME RAIN OR COME SHINE:

What a bonanza — thanks to Eddie, his friends, and to Franz Hoffmann.

*I believe the yearning for the kinescopes of this television show will forever be unsatisfied: the details are not appropriate here, but the primary kinescopes no longer exist.  One may, of course, imagine a jazz fan with a sound film camera aiming it at the television screen — but the combination of happy events that would have made this possible in 1948 is frankly unlikely.  Better to treasure what we have!

TAKING RISKS, HAVING A BALL: TWO CINEMATIC MASTERPIECES from “THE SOUND OF JAZZ” (1957)

Next to JAMMIN’ THE BLUES and HOT HOUSE, the 1933 footage of Louis in Copenhagen, Duke in CHECK AND DOUBLE CHECK, the silent newsreel film of the Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing, the 1957 THE SOUND OF JAZZ might be the most famous film of jazz performance extant.  I’ve seen it in various forms: on a muzzy VCR copy, an improved DVD, and in bits and pieces on YouTube.

And I hope everyone has seen it so many times that it has the gleam of photographs of a dear old friend — lovingly glimpsed from many angles in a leisurely way.

But when the generous collector Franz Hoffmann opened his Henry “Red” Allen box of wonders, I thought, “What if there are some people who haven’t seen ROSETTA and WILD MAN BLUES — ever?”  So in the same way we return to stand awestruck in front of a Sargent portrait or we settle in for a long night with KING LEAR, let us return to these two magical filmed performances.

The first thing, of course, is the music — music made by titans at the peak of their casual achievements.  Henry “Red” Allen, trumpet and vocal; Rex Stewart, cornet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Coleman Hawkins, tenor sax; Nat Pierce, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Milt Hinton, string bass; Jo Jones, drums.

Let us be frank about this band.  It was a gathering of strong personalities — players who demanded space for themselves (perhaps with the exception of Pierce and Barker) who — given the wrong audience, could caricature themselves.  To some this will seem like heresy, but the evidence exists.  But what remains here is an exuberant jostling in the name of the music:  the combat between Red and Rex is subtle and sly, and Jo’s solo — although perhaps a digression — is constrained rather than a show-stopper.

Careful observers will note that in a program ostensibly devoted to the blues, neither ROSETTA nor WILD MAN BLUES is one, although the latter descends into those emotional depths with great fervor.

So one could watch these clips over and over, marveling at the balance between individual ego and cohesion.  What Red Allen does is also an advanced course in leadership.  I know that the band had had a “rehearsal” for the purposes of recording the music for Columbia Records (more about that later) but it’s clear that not much had been worked out aside from the basics: who solos first and for how long.

But I would propose another reason to marvel at these clips, and it’s a silent one — almost in the name of moving sculptures and shadows.  The director of the program, Jack Smight, was a great jazzman himself — not that he played an instrument, but in the chances he took.  This was live television, so his decisions were made on the spot and there were no retakes.  He had five cameramen — their names Bob Heller, Harold Classen, Joe Sokota, Jack Brown, and Marty Tuck.  And Smight moved from one to the other with great logic, sensitivity, and freedom.  Musicians hard at work — in love with their art — are great studies, and these five cameras captured not only the usual visual cliches: the sweating face, distended cheeks, intake and outflow of breath, but the musicians listening and responding to one another.  And to their own creations: one of the most memorable seconds of this is the expression on Rex Stewart’s face after he has pulled off what he understands is a particularly felicitous epigram in WILD MAN BLUES.  It’s self-congratulatory but in a sweetly hilarious way, “Hey, Ma!  Look what I just played!”  And who would deny Rex his pleasure in his own art?

In an era where multiple-camera setups often lead to restlessness that is difficult to endure (even before everyone had a video camera) these cuts and chance-takings are both beautiful and highly rewarding.  I propose something nearly audacious: one could watch these films with the sound off and marvel at the faces and their expressions.  Truly rewarding film of a musical performance is not only the soundtrack, but the way the players present themselves to us, as we see here.

WILD MAN BLUES:

ROSETTA:

And a purely aural note.  In the vinyl era, both a monaural and a stereo record were issued.  They captured the music at the “rehearsal,” December 5, 1957.  (I assume that this session also captured the disembodied voices we hear on the television program, explaining what the blues meant to them.)  Both of those issues were slightly different: at one point in the last minutes of DICKIE’S DREAM, the brass and reeds got out of synch with one another; on one issue, the raggedness is documented (very reassuring for those of us who are not giants on the scale of these players!); on the other, a neater passage and a different Basie piano bridge have been spliced in.  George Avakian was apparently not involved with this project, but Irving Townsend seems to have picked up some of George’s skill with a razor blade.  But — even better! — the CD issue, now possibly difficult to find (Columbia Legacy CK 66082) includes a previously unissued take of WILD MAN BLUES that runs almost nine minutes.  (Much harder to find is the late Bob Hilbert’s vinyl issue on his own Pumpkin label, THE “REAL” SOUND OF JAZZ, which presents the audio from the television show.)

Even if you think you know these performances, I will wager whatever you like that something will come and surprise you in a repeat viewing.  Bless these musicians; bless Whitney Balliett and Nat Hentoff; bless Smight and his cameramen; bless Franz Hoffmann, too.

ONE MORE FROM THE JAZZ TREASURE CHEST: MIKE POINTON, TOMAS ORNBERG, BENT PERSSON: ASKERSUND JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 1994)

Thanks to Franz Hoffmann!

From June 18, 1994, at the Askersund, Sweden Jazz Festival: Bent Persson, cornet; Mike Pointon, trombone, vocal; Tomas Ornberg, clarinet, alto sax; possibly Ray Smith, piano; Tom Stuip, banjo; unknown (perhaps Bo Juhlin?), brass bass.

Flying all the way, they do HEEBIE JEEBIES — a very funny version for those who know the “original story”; a rousing CHATTANOOGA STOMP from the Creole Jazz Band book — with great Mortonish emphatic playing from the pianist; a loose and easy FOUR OR FIVE TIMES.

And thanks to Mister Strong, who lives on in this music.

WE MISS RICHARD M. SUDHALTER: THE NEW PAUL WHITEMAN ORCHESTRA, 1974, LONDON

Thanks again to Franz Hoffmann, dispersing gems lavishly to us.  Here is a twenty-one minute excerpt from a concert recorded in autumn 1974 and broadcast on UK television as BIX BEIDERBECKE AND THE KING OF JAZZ.  The New Paul Whiteman Orchestra was made up of the best British jazzmen old and young: Duncan Campbell, Freddy Staff, Tommy McQuater, John McLevey, Dick Sudhalter, trumpet and cornet; Johnny Edwards, Harry Roche, Ric Kennedy, Keith Nichols, trombone; Harry Smith, Al Baum, Graham Lyons, Derek Guttridge, Ken Poole, reeds; Paul Nossiter, clarinet; John R.T. Davies, alto sax;  Harry Gold, bass sax; Pat Dodd, piano, celeste; George Elliott, guitar, banjo; Peter Ind, string bass; Martin Fry, tuba; Jock Cummings, drums, percussion; Reg Leopold, John Kirkland, Louis Harris, Kelly Isaacs, Bill Reid, George Hurley, violin; Chris Ellis, vocal; The New Rhythm Boys : Paul Nossiter, Keith Nichols, John R.T. Davies, vocal; Alan Cohen, conductor.  The songs performed are BIG BOY (by a small group); LOUISIANA, ‘T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, ‘T’AIN’T SO, I FOUND A NEW BABY, THERE AIN’T NO SWEET MAN THAT’S WORTH THE SALT OF MY TEARS, and SINGIN’ THE BLUES.

Thanks go — in plenitude — to the late Richard M. Sudhalter, playing new solos and encouraging his bandmates to do the same . . . and making these arrangements come alive again.  Without him . . . . none of this would have happened.  We miss him.

HOTTER THAN THAT: KUSTBANDET PLAYS “PANAMA” (1985)

Thanks once again to Franz Hoffmann, this more contemporary treasure — the Swedish band KUSTBANDET performing its own very rocking evocation of the 1929-30 Luis Russell Orchestra (original stars Henry “Red” Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Charlie Holmes, Albert Nicholas, Pops Foster, Paul Barbarin) playing the living daylights out of W.H. Tyers’ atmospheric piece, PANAMA:

Franz dates this as September 27, 1985 for NDR-TV, and thinks the personnel is Claes-Goran Faxell, Bent Persson, Ola Palsson, trumpet; Jens Lindgren,trombone; Goran Eriksson, Jan Akerman, Erik Persson, reeds; Ake Edenstrand, piano; Hans Gustafsson, banjo; Bo Juhlin, brass bass, bass trombone; Goran Lind, bass; Christer Ekhe, drums.

Bent Persson plays Red Allen; Jens Lindgren does Higgy.  I don’t know the reed section by name, or else I would surely credit them.  Two questions: can anyone read the autograph / inscription on Goran Lind’s bass?  It looks like a real treasure.  And it may just be my point of view, but I am astonished at how serene . . . calm . . . impassive this television audience is.  One fellow, at about 2 minutes in, to the bottom right of the frame, is fanning himself.  That reaction I understand.

I never leap to my feet and shout YEAH! because I have a video camera in my hand, but this performance made me want to do just that.

ONCE THERE WAS A HOUSE ON FIFTY-SECOND STREET (Henry “Red” Allen, 1946)

The Soundies — a kind of early video jukebox — seem very primitive today.  Watch more than two at a time by the same band, and it’s clear they were done rapidly, cheaply, and without much emphasis on variety.  The same sets and presentation continue throughout a series,  and the musicians are clearly miming to a pre-recorded soundtrack.  But how else would we see Henry “Red” Allen and his sidekick J. C. Higginbotham in performance in 1946?

This Soundie — HOUSE ON 52nd STREET — was not intended as a follow-up to Red’s moody THERE’S A HOUSE IN HARLEM, but it seems an extension of songs like GIMME A PIGFOOT and THE JOINT IS JUMPIN’ — efforts to invent a party scene in less than three minutes.

Its rather thin melody and lyrics already must have seemed nostalgic for a scene rapidly slipping away. By 1946, I think “the Street” was in decline: the returning servicemen had already decided to take their girlfriends to the suburbs, own some lawn, raise families — and I do not scoff at these activities, for they delineate aspects of my early life . . . but domesticity meant that you didn’t stay up late listening to jazz in the city.  And then there was television, a few years later . . .

In Manhattan, I believe that the block between Sixth and Seventh Avenues on Fifty-Second Street is called SWING STREET on the green-and-white sign, but that’s possibly the only thing swinging there now.

But we can return to this invented scene — sixty-five years ago now! — and hear Red, Higgy, Don Stovall, alto; Bill Thompson, piano; Benny Moten, string bass; Alvin Burroughs, drums; Johni Weaver and Harry Turner, dancers.  And Red obviously didn’t develop his stage presence only at the Metropole: he has it here, exuberantly selling this song:

Thanks again to Franz Hoffmann for delving even deeper into his treasure-chest and letting us see and hear these prizes.

“LOVER, COME BACK TO ME”: HENRY “RED” ALLEN, CLARK TERRY, RUBY BRAFF: Newport Jazz Festival Trumpet Workshop (July 1966)

Another treasure from Franz Hoffmann — featuring these three great idiosyncratic weavers of sound in fascinating solos and ensembles that suggest ballroom dancers expertly maneuvering on a crowded floor.  We don’t even mind that the silent images of Braff and Terry are reversed: it’s a boon to hear this performance again.  In the early Seventies, it was reshown on WNET as a filler: I tape-recorded the soundtrack (which has of course vanished) but it was too early for home video recording.

Festival performances that mix players of “different”styles sometimes are less than the players arranged on stage: this one shows us how these three great players were rooted in swing and melody — and how they knew about leaving space for the other players.  I would make this required listening for those youths (no matter how old they are) who naively presume that all jazz before Coltrane was simplistic, everyone following meekly in the same narrow paths.

APRIL 23, 1941 at CARNEGIE HALL: CAFE SOCIETY CONCERT (featuring the COUNT BASIE BAND, RED ALLEN’S BAND . . . )

Jam session ecstasies, anyone?  Thanks to jazz scholar Franz Hoffmann, who has just started sharing his incredible treasures on YouTube . . . here are three recordings from an incredible jam session that concluded a Carnegie Hall concert that utilized the talents of musicians playing and singing at Cafe Society.

First, DIGA DIGA DOO by Henry “Red” Allen’s band, with Red, trumpet; J.C. Higginbotham, trombone; Ed Hall, clarinet; Ken Kersey, piano; Billy Taylor, bass; Jimmy Hoskins, drums:

How about some BLUES?  And let’s add a few players: Red Allen, Buck Clayton, Charlie Shavers, Bunny Berigan, Henry Levine, Max Kaminsky, trumpet; Will Bradley, J.C. Higginbotham, trombone; Buster Bailey, Ed Hall, clarinet; Russell Procope, Tab Smith, alto sax; Don Byas, Buddy Tate, tenor sax; Eddie South, violin; Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, Stan Facey, Ken Kersey, Count Basie, Calvin Jackson, Buck Washington, Billy Kyle, Art Tatum, piano; Freddie Green, Gene Fields, guitar; Walter Page, John Kirby, Billy Taylor, Doles Dickens, bass; Jo Jones, Specs Powell, Jimmy Hoskins, Ray McKinley, O´Neil Spencer, drums:

I didn’t have enough blues to satisfy me . . . so let the fellows play ONE O’CLOCK JUMP:

I first heard the latter two performances perhaps twenty-five years ago on cassette from another collector . . . they were perilously hush-hush and not to be distributed to others.  Now all can be revealed and shared, to our hearts’ content.  In the interests of accuracy, I have to point out that the visuals provided — the “silent”films — do not match up with the music, and in one case I believe altoist Tab Smith is soloing while tenorist Don Byas is onscreen.  But such things are infinitesmal when compared to the glory of the music . . . even when it seems as though everyone on stage is wailing away at once.

I wonder what treasures Professor Hoffmann has for us in the coming days!  (Even now, there’s the precious audio of Red, Clark Terry, and Ruby Braff playing LOVER, COME BACK TO ME for a Newport Trumpet Workshop . . . )