Tag Archives: Gary Giddins

“HAVE YOU TRIED THE ELEPHANT BEER?”: INSPIRED STORIES: “JAZZ TALES FROM JAZZ LEGENDS,” by MONK ROWE with ROMY BRITELL

Marian McPartland and Monk Rowe, photo by Val DeVisser

Marian McPartland and Monk Rowe, photo by Val DeVisser

Monk Rowe is a jazz musician — saxophonist, pianist, composer, arranger — and he has a day gig at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, as the  Joe Williams Director of the Filius Jazz Archive there.  The Archive will be twenty-one in 2016, and it is indeed remarkably adult.

So far, Monk has conducted video interviews with more than 325 musicians, ranging from the great forbears (Doc Cheatham, Eddie Bert, Kenny Davern, Jerry Jerome, Ray Conniff, Joe Williams, Milt Hinton) to the living legends of the present and future (Nicki Parrott, Kidd Jordan, Sherrie Maricle, Bill Charlap, Holly Hofmann, Maria Schneider).  And excerpts from those interviews, thematically and intelligently arranged, now form a compact yet impressive book (with a brief foreword by jazz eminence Dan Morgenstern) whose title is above.

JazzTalesCover

A friend at Hamilton sent me a copy of the book some weeks back, and I have been slow to write about it — for two reasons.  One, the semester got in the way, unforgivably, and two, I was often making notes and laughing so hard that I couldn’t read much at a sitting.  But my instant recommendation is BUY IT.  So those of you who want to skip the evidence can zoom to the bottom of this post. Others can linger.

A brief prelude.  I am immensely in favor of oral history although it cannot replace the best analysis or aesthetic criticism.  I wouldn’t give up Whitney Balliett, Martin Williams, Gary Giddins, Anthony Barnett, Frank Buchmann-Moller, Manfred Selchow, or John Chilton . . . the list goes on and I know I am leaving two dozen worthy writers out.  But what wouldn’t we give for a ten-minute interview with Tony Fruscella, Frank Teschemacher, Jimmy Harrison, Herschel Evans, Eddie Lang, Jimmy Blanton, or Buster Bailey?  True, some musicians were and are shy or not always able to articulate much about the music, but others — as we know — are born raconteurs, sharp observers, comedians, anthropologists.  Their stories, no matter how brief, are precious.  Two pages by Clark Terry where he speaks of being beaten by Caucasians because he was a “Nigerian” while in Mississippi — and then being rescued by another group of Caucasians — say more about race relations in the United States than twenty hours of PBS footage could ever do.

The material is organized thematically, enabling the reader to hear, for instance, stories of life on the road from Kenny Davern, Lanny Morgan, and Phil Woods. Then there are sharp observations — one can almost hear the rimshot that follows.  Dave Pell calls Stan Getz “the greatest dressing room player that ever lived.”  Stan Kenton stops his band from swinging too much and says, “This is not Basie.  This is Stan Kenton.”  Bobby Rosengarden talks about Toscanini, Joe Wilder about punctuality, Dick Hyman and Bucky Pizzarelli about life in the recording studio.  Keter Betts, as a high-school student, is bought lunch by Milt Hinton; Jean Bach explains the Ellington habit of “seagulling”; Sherrie Maricle recalls her metal clarinet.  Dan Barrett gives advice to young musicians.  Randy Sandke talks about the perils of thinking.  Karl Berger talks about his conducting; Kidd Jordan deconstructs a song’s title.  And there’s a historical perspective covering nearly a century: we hear Doc Cheatham talk about Ma Rainey, then Jerry Jerome describe the first Glenn Miller band — all the way up to the present.

It’s an enthralling book.  And since Monk Rowe is a professional musician, his interludes and commentary are more than useful; his questions are on the mark. Other writers put themselves into the dialogue merely to say, “Well, Dizzy always used to say to me,” but Monk is a gracious interpreter rather than a narcissist.

To find out the story of the elephant beer and the priceless answer, visit Monk’s JAZZ BACKSTORY blog here  and scroll down to the bottom of the page.  Then you can read the rest of Phil Woods’ words and — by the way — find out exactly what Dizzy Gillespie said when presented with the key to the city of Syracuse, New York.

JAZZ TALES FROM JAZZ LEGENDS is available here through Amazon.  And the proceeds from the book support the Archives.

NEWS FLASH: Monk is going to be teaching a free online course on jazz, starting February 2, 2016: details here.

May your happiness increase!

JOSH DUFFEE / CHAUNCEY MOREHOUSE: Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers, March 23, 2011

JAZZ LIVES readers know Josh Duffee — or have been depriving themselves of a great pleasure if they don’t. 

Here he is, bespectacled, serious, dapper, and swinging hard — off to the right behind a minimalist drum kit.  (Who needs more?)  I caught this at the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival:

Now you can see this young fellow is a wonderful drummer: he’s in there, as they used to say.  His friends are Andy Schumm, cornet; Paul Munnery, trombone; Norman Field (becoming Tesch, wonderfully), clarinet; Jeff Barnhart, piano; Jacob Ullberger, banjo; Frans Sjostrom, bass sax. 

But Josh also shines when he’s not moving around or making one object come into contact with another, rhythmically.  He is a great natural scholar of the music — without academic pretensions or hauteur — and one of his subjects is the masterful and under-celebrated Chauncey Morehouse, a thoughtful force of nature. 

I saw Mr. Morehouse at either the 1974 or 1975 New York Jazz Repertory concert tributes to Bix . . . he wailed!  I also tape-recorded the concert and know where the tapes are . . . but no longer have a reel-to-reel recorder.  Any suggestions?

Here’s Chauncey, featured at his tuned N’Goma drums as a member of the 1938 Saturday Night Swing Club radio program.  On film!  With Leith Stevens directing the house band, Paul Douglas as master of ceremonies, and some people named Bobby Hackett, Pee Wee Russell, Georg Brunis, and Eddie Condon joining in for the closing “jam session” on THE DIPSY DOODLE:

So I will be at Rugers this coming Wednesday, March 23.  You come, too!  It’s free and worth the trip.  And (just as an aside) I won’t be videotaping Josh’s two-hour presentation to put on JAZZ LIVES — for a variety of reasons, none of them ominous.  So you should take the bus, the train, or even drive to Rutgers.  My experiences with Josh — as a percussionist, thinker, and generous person — are all the evidence I need.

JOSH DUFFEE PRESENTS CHAUNCEY MOREHOUSE

Jazz Research Roundtable

The Institute of Jazz Studies
Department of Visual and Performing Arts
Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Rutgers – Newark

Since 1995, IJS has hosted its monthly Jazz Research Roundtable meetings, which have become a prestigious forum for scholars, musicians, and students engaged in all facets of jazz research.  Noted authors, such as Gary Giddins, Stanley Crouch, and Richard Sudhalter have previewed their works, as have several filmmakers.  Musicians who have shared their life stories include trumpeter Joe Wilder, pianist Richard Wyands, guitarists Remo Palmier and Lawrence Lucie, trombonist Grachan Moncur III, and drummer/jazz historian Kenny Washington.

All programs are free and open to the public, and take place Wednesday evenings from 7:00 to 9:00 pm in the Dana Room, 4th floor, John Cotton Dana Library, Rutgers University, 185 University Ave., Newark, NJ.  Refreshments will be served.

For further information, please call (973) 353-5595.
Financial support for the Roundtable is provided by the Rosalind & Alfred Berger Foundation.

Institute of Jazz Studies
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
John Cotton Dana Library
185 University Ave.
Newark NJ USA 07102
Tel: (973) 353-5595
Fax: (973) 353-5944

CLICK HERE TO GIVE BACK TO THE MUSICIANS IN THE VIDEOS (ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THEM):

 https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

DON’T FORGET EDDIE LANG, PLEASE!

Our ’20s guitar man

South Philadelphia’s Eddie Lang, the “Father of Jazz Guitar” who died in 1933, lives again at Chris’ Jazz Cafe.
By Dan DeLuca

Inquirer Music Critic

From Django Reinhardt to Jimi Hendrix, the names that commonly appear on argument-starting lists of the greatest and most influential guitarists of the 20th century are familiar.

But there’s one flat-picking virtuoso from South Philadelphia typically left out of the conversation, whose music has receded into obscurity despite a trailblazing career cut short by his tragic death in 1933: Eddie Lang.

That’s an injustice an aggregation of local musicians and Lang enthusiasts are doing their best to redress, starting with a multi-act show that will bring Lang’s music to life at Chris’ Jazz Cafe in Center City on Monday.

It’s the 108th anniversary of the birth of Lang, who died of complications from a tonsillectomy that his friend and collaborator, Bing Crosby, urged him to get. And it’s been declared Eddie Lang Day in Philadelphia in a proclamation from Mayor Nutter that “urges all citizens to be aware of Eddie Lang’s history-making musical legacy as well as the role of Philadelphia in the development of early jazz music.”

And it’s about time, say ardent fans of Lang, frustrated that such a prodigiously talented and innovative figure could be all but forgotten by all but jazz cognoscenti.

“He’s somebody who died at a young age who had a brief, meteoric career,” says Aaron Luis Levinson, the Grammy-winning Philadelphia record producer who helmed Rediscovering Lonnie Johnson, the 2008 release that re-created three of the historic guitar duets between Lang and African American guitarist Johnson that broke the recording industry’s color line in 1928 and 1929.

At Chris’ on Monday, all 12 of the duets – which Lang recorded under the pseudonym Blind Willie Dunn so as to not arouse suspicion of music miscegenation – will be reprised by guitarists Jef Lee Johnson and Jonathan Dichter, who will “play” Lang.

“He’s not someone anybody ever remembers to talk about when they talk about Philadelphia music,” Levinson says. “There’s something really unfair about cultural memory. It’s like anything that happened before Elvis Presley gets treated like it happened in the dinosaur age.”

Lang’s life story may be little known, but it reads like an unwritten screenplay about a dazzlingly talented, thoroughly modern musician. Born Salvatore Massaro in 1902, Lang took his stage name from a favorite basketball player for the club team the Philadelphia Sphas (an acronym for the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association).

The son of an Italian American immigrant instrument maker was among the pioneers of the flat-picking style (which involves playing with a plectrum held by, rather than attached to, the fingers) and is credited with popularizing the guitar over the louder, previously more prevalent banjo, as a key instrument for the jazz bands of the 1920s. So much so that the historical marker across the street from the Saloon restaurant in Lang’s old neighborhood at Seventh and Clymer Streets, put up in 1995, proclaims him “the Father of Jazz Guitar.”

Along with his childhood friend, violinist Joe Venuti, Lang laid the foundation for the improvisational gypsy jazz stylings of Reinhardt and his violin-playing counterpart, Stephane Grappelli.

Crosby biographer Gary Giddins writes that in contrast to Venuti’s merry-prankster personality, Lang was “quiet, thoughtful and responsible, a ruminative Catholic.”

In A Pocketful of Dreams: Bing Crosby, The Early Years, 1903-1940, Giddins writes that after cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, Lang and Venuti were “arguably the most influential white jazz musicians of the 1920s, serving as a sort of template for the famed European jazz ensemble of the 1930s, the Quintette du Hot Club de France.”

Lang and Venuti made their names together playing in Philadelphia and Atlantic City showrooms, and according to Dichter, a music historian as well as a guitar teacher at the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, toured in England with the novelty band the Mound City Blue Blowers.

In 1929, they were hired by bandleader Paul Whiteman, and it was there that Lang first began to accompany Crosby, who said of Lang’s playing: “He made you want to ride and go.” Giddins calls Lang Crosby’s “jazz conscience,” and the singer’s “most intimate friend, almost certainly the closest he would ever have.”

Crosby brought Lang for the 1932 film The Big Broadcast. He also negotiated a deal for Lang to have speaking parts in all his movies, which is why he urged him to have an operation to rectify the chronic hoarseness attributed to tonsillitis.

Richard Barnes, a guitarist and photographer who lives in Aston, is the driving force behind Eddie Lang Day in Philadelphia and will perform at Chris’ with his band, the Blackbird Society Orchestra. He’ll also do a number of Lang-Venuti duets with violinist Michael Salsburg. Barnes first got the Lang bug after he saw Leon Redbone perform in West Philadelphia in the early 1990s.

“That was my exposure to 1920s music,” Barnes says. “I got a couple of CDs, and when you listen to Paul Whiteman, Bix Beiderbecke, there was always this one guitar player that I really liked. It was totally different. Not strumming.

“Not blues. He plays in an almost pianolike style. Very interesting chord inversions, always complementing the singer. A real distinct sound. It turns out it was Eddie Lang.”

Barnes put an ad on Craigslist this year, reading “Eddie Lang Day, This October.” One of the interested parties to inquire was Mike Hood, who suggested Chris’ as a venue, and will play on Monday with his band Cornbread Five.

The event will raise money for the Eddie Lang Music Scholarship Program for underprivileged children, and Barnes hopes to turn it into an annual Eddie Lang Festival at Chris’ every October.

Barnes, who says business for his 1920s-style Blackbird Society Orchestra is looking up thanks to interest in HBO’s Atlantic City mob drama Boardwalk Empire, got the idea to approach the Nutter administration from one of his first musical memories.

“When I was 13, my first concert was seeing Elton John at the Spectrum,” he remembers. “And there was a picture of Frank Rizzo in the newspaper with Elton John, when he declared it Elton John Day. I thought it would be so cool if I could get the mayor to do that with Eddie Lang.”

The attention is well-deserved, says Dichter, who plays in a band called Beau Django, and who talked to Les Paul about Lang’s influence before the guitarist’s death at 94 last year. “He said it was just too long ago,” Dichter says. “It’s convenient to forget.”

Barnes says he’s always on a mission to bring Lang’s music to a wider audience. “I’m not trying to form the fan club or anything,” he says. “But I do think that people would appreciate this music and enjoy it. It’s something you don’t hear all the time.”

“He invented single-string guitar playing,” Dichter says of Lang, who is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon. “I would call him the most influential guitarist in terms of melody, and then he had this incredible sense of rhythm that really made you want to dance. He laid the foundation, and then he died.

“Charlie Christian is remembered. Jimi Hendrix is remembered. What about Eddie Lang?”

THE MYSTERIES OF JACK TEAGARDEN

Although he would have been astonished if you had told him he was in any way mysterious, Jack Teagarden is difficult to unravel.  For one thing, Jack (or Big Tea or Mr. T.) was regarded as perhaps the finest trombonist of his time by musicians in and out of jazz: how about counting as your fans and colleagues Coleman Hawkins, Bing Crosby, Johnny Mercer, and Louis Armstrong? 

If you go by the rules or the expectations that lead people to create them, Jack should have sounded and played differently.  A White musician of German ancestry born in Texas in 1904 could have been a trombone virtuoso, but one you would have expected to have come to jazz through the side door.  Other White musicians heard their jazz from recordings of the ODJB or the NORK, but Jack seems to have been improvising at an astonishing level before he heard jazz in any “official” fashion. 

Teagarden astonished all the musicians who heard him uptown in 1927.  And he kept astonishing them, including Bob Brookmeyer, until his death in 1964. 

Teagarden came up in a “hot” tradition, where you were supposed to raise the temperature of the dance band recording with your eight-bar bridge (safely hidden in the last minute of those grooves).  And he was a superlative stimulus to musicians as secure in their own identies as Benny Goodman, Pee Wee Russell, and Bix Beiderbecke. 

But Teagarden never seemed to work hard: his playing and singing looked as if anyone could do it.  Other musicians of his generation and beyond who sweated and strained dramatically got more attention and accolades.  Because Jack had a half-dozen “hits,” he became identified early on with that narrow repertoire.  He now often seems like a man imprisoned by BASIN STREET BLUES in front of a fairly well-behaved small group.     

How did he become Jack Teagarden?  What was it like to be Jack Teagarden?   

A variety of scholars, including the late Richard M. Sudhalter, have nibbled away at these mysteries, but they are being taken up again by the young jazz scholar and trombonist Alex W. Rodriguez. 

And Alex will be sharing his insights at Rutgers University on Wednesday, April 21, 2010, during a “Jazz Research Roundtable” sponsored by the Institute of Jazz Studies: WHITE AND BLUE: THE JAZZ LEGACY OF JACK TEAGARDEN.  

The Roundtables have been going on since 1995, with many distinguished musicians and scholars as guests, including Gary Giddins, Stanley Crouch, Richard M. Sudhalter, Joe Wilder, Richard Wyands, Remo Palmier, Lawrence Lucie, Grachan Moncur III, Randy Sandke, Marty Napoleon, Larry Ridley, Nicki Parrott, and Kenny Washington.

All programs are free and open to the public, and take place Wednesday evenings from 7:00 to 9:00 pm in the Dana Room, 4th floor, John Cotton Dana Library, Rutgers University, 185 University Ave., Newark, New Jersey.  Refreshments will be served.  For more information, call (973)353-5595.

To read more about Alex, check out http://www.npr.org/blogs/ablogsupreme/2009/09/jazz_now_alex_rodriguez_lubric.html.  And, better yet, visit his intriguing blog: http://lubricity.wordpress.com/about/

I hear you saying, “LUBRICITY?  What in the name of Tricky Sam Nanton is LUBRICITY?”  Alex can tell us:

“Lubricity is the quality of shiftiness or slipperiness, the ability to resist definition, and the capacity for reducing tension.  To me, it’s a perfect descriptor for jazz as it lives in our world today.  It’s also a tribute to the bebop musicians like Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk who had a fascination with obscure multisyllabic words like “Epistrophy” and “Ornithology”.  Finally, it’s a tip of the hat to my instrument, the trombone, which requires a lubricious slide in order to be played effectively.  Join me in discussing the definition-resistant musical tradition we call jazz through my perspective as a young trombonist and aspiring jazz historian.”

That fellow Rodriguez has a voice, doesn’t he?  An encouraging sign in anyone, scholar, musician, or not.

PLEASE READ THIS!

This is Tom Cosentino’s incredibly touching piece on Clarence Armstrong, Louis’s adopted son — someone Tom knew in his Bronx childhood.  Blessings on Tom, on Clarence, on Louis, and on Ricky Riccardi for letting us know about this essay:

WHAT I LEARNED FROM CLARENCE ARMSTRONG

Last night I watched a documentary on the Ovation television network on jazz legend Louis Armstrong. I’ve always been fascinated with the man known as “Satchmo,” not only because of his music, which I love, but because of a boyhood tie that I have to him.

During the course of the documentary, reference was made to Louis’ adopted son, who was retarded. No name was given, but I knew what they were talking about, for he was my friend Clarence, a person I first knew as a little boy as Ooga Booga.

I grew up in the northeast Bronx on a street called Oakley. The cross street was Fenton Ave, and a few house up that block was a woman named Miss Lillian. That was the house that Clarence lived in as well. Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of friends until I was 8 and I was allowed to start playing in the street and nearby school yard of my boyhood school, P.S. 78. From my backyard, I would see Clarence pass my house every day, wearing his Mets cap. I never really talked with him. Then, when I started playing ball in the street with the other kids up my block, I heard them call him by another name, that of “Ooga Booga.” The kids were afraid of him and would tease him for chewing on his tongue. When they would see him they would taunt him with the cry of “Hey, Ooga Booga, Hey Ooga Booga” and then run. I’m ashamed to say, I joined in.

Then, one day, Clarence called me out and said he would tell my father. When I was home that night, I asked my parents about Clarence. They then told me that he was the son of Louis Armstrong. They even told me that Louis used to come up to the house to see Clarence when they first moved in. I knew Louis Armstrong was a musician, and knew him from television and the song, Hello Dolly. What I didn’t know was that Miss Lillian had married Clarence under an arrangement with Louis Armstrong. They had a son who used to play the trumpet out of his window all the time. However, he later died, although I do not know the reasons.

Knowing now the background of Clarence, I was carrying the guilt of being one of the abusive kids taunting him. The next time I saw him, I didn’t run but said hello. Clarence started talking to me about his love, baseball. This would begin years of dialogue on the Mets. Even though I was a Yankees fan, Clarence knew I loved baseball too. He would make up trades for the Mets, ringing my door bell to tell me the Mets got Reggie Smith from the Red Sox or Tony Perez from the Reds and other such All-Stars. Of course, they never traded anyone for these players, but I caught on and just kept the discussion going. Many times, he would ring my doorbell to tell me his news. My dad or mom would have to rescue me by coming out to tell me to finish my home work or have dinner.

I remember the one trade that was really made that thrilled Clarence was when the Mets got Willie Mays from the Giants. Clarence was literally jumping for joy that day. He would often jump up and down when he was excited, yelling as loud as he could. He was a little boy in a grown man’s body.

I communicated my discovery of Clarence’s background and love for baseball to my friends and they quickly caught on too. Soon Clarence began hanging out with us, watching us play. We’d even let him coach some times. He quickly became our mascot and lookout, watching for kids from other blocks that might look to start trouble with us.

Not only was I able to get to know Clarence, but I would visit and say hello to Miss Lillian nearly every day. Sometimes she would even give me a present.

When Louis Armstrong died in July, 1971, I remember WPIX carrying the funeral live on television. There, I got to see Clarence getting into a limousine. It confirmed for real, his relationship with the famed trumpeter.

As the years progressed and we all got older, we continued playing ball all the way through our college years. Clarence was there with us, watching and cheering us on as always. He was still making up trades. In fact, if the Mets hired Clarence, they may have won a few more pennants.

Clarence was Catholic and I would often walk and attend Mass with him at St. Phillip & James Church on Boston Road. Many parishioners would shy away, but I would sit with him in a side pew.

Sometimes when Clarence would ring my bell it wasn’t always about baseball. I can remember one time when he called on me to tell me a member of his daddy’s band had died.

After watching the documentary last night, I decided to look up information on Louis Armstrong, hoping to find mention of the adopted retarded son I knew as Clarence. Why I never did this earlier, I don’t know, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a link in the Wikipedia entry to a story written by Gary Giddins in the Village Voice in 2003

that outlined the history of Clarence. It turns out; Clarence was the son of Louis Armstrong’s cousin Flora. As Giddins’ account, posted below, points out, Louis began supporting Clarence when Louis was just 14. It became a lifelong pursuit, as Clarence was Louis’ only child.

“A few steps into the archive I was stopped dead by a pasteboard blowup of a photograph that had never been published, showing Armstrong and his adopted son, “Clarence Hatfield.” I had never given Clarence much thought, having heard he was mentally retarded and died a long time ago, hidden away.

But here he was: beaming backstage at the Band Box, a club in Chicago, in the 1940s, nattily dressed in a double-breasted suit not unlike the pinstripe tailored for Armstrong, who also beams, with unmistakable paternal pride. Clarence and their relationship sprang to life, sending me back to Armstrong’s account in Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans, to appreciate for the first time its affectionate candor regarding his only venture into paternity. Clarence was born in 1915 to Louis’s teenage cousin, Flora, apparently after she was molested by an old white man her father felt powerless to challenge. Louis’s first sight of the baby washed “all the gloom out of me.” He took it upon himself, at 14, to get a job hauling coal (immortalized in the 1925 “Coal Cart Blues”) to support the baby and the ailing mother, and assumed full responsibility after Flora’s death, marrying his first wife and adopting the three-year-old at 17. In that period, Clarence fell off a porch and landed on his head; doctors judged him to be mentally impaired. When Louis married Lil Hardin in Chicago, Clarence joined them, and Louis never forgave Lil—who claimed that Clarence was never legally adopted—for her impatience with him. When he left Lil for Alpha, he brought Clarence along.

Eventually, Clarence was set up in the Bronx, where he was married in an arrangement of convenience financed by Louis.”

Miss Lillian eventually passed and I got married and moved to New Jersey, losing any connection I had with Clarence. My dad and brother who were still living there told me that his house had been boarded up and Clarence taken away one day. They never knew what happened. After reading Gary Giddins’ story, I now know he died in 1998. I now have to read Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans and learn more.

Clarence Armstrong forever changed my life for he taught me how to deal with others. Appearances and background don’t matter. It’s what’s inside a person that counts. It’s something I’ve tried to carry through on throughout my professional career.

I can still see him cheering for us, tongue hanging from his mouth and his Mets cap hanging sideways on his head as he jumped up and down. “Tommy, Tommy” I can hear him yell. “The Mets just got Albert Pujols. They gonna have a bad ass team this year!”

Tom Cosentino

HOT JAZZ for NEW YEAR’S EVE 2010!

I hope that your 2009 has been a spectacularly good year and that you are sorry to see it come to an end.  But even if you are more than ready for 2010 to come and sweep the detritus of 2009 away for good, there’s no better way to make the occasion fesrive than with some hot jazz on the radio.  Or on your computer.  Gather round your laptop, raise the volume,  and lift your glasses high!

The musical largesse comes from the Riverwalk Jazz people — who have been sending it out on the airwaves for free for more than two decades. 

This program, recorded live at the Sacramento Jazz Festival, is called LAST CALL LATE NIGHT JAM, and it features three of my heroes: Jon-Erik Kellso, Hal Smith, and trombonist Bill Allred, sitting in with Jim Cullum’s Jazz Band. 

If you’ve been invited to a party where the host chooses the music, don’t fret: the show will be rebroadcast from Dec. 31 to Jan. 6, 2010.  

The site is http://www.riverwalkjazz.org/jazznotes/last_call/

If you prefer to spin your FM dial, here are the many radio stations that broadcast Riverwalk: http://www.riverwalkjazz.org/StationList/

Swing out the old year, swing in the new!

And — for those of us who can focus on what’s ahead in 2010, the Riverwalk program has many delights in store: during January, they will be offering a Teddy Wilson tribute featuring Dick Hyman (the week of 1/7); a Bob Barnard program (1/14; a Sidney Bechet jamboree with Bob Wilber and Evan Christopher (1/21) and more!  Visit http://www.riverwalkjazz.org/ for details about programs to come in February and March 2010 . . . featuring Bria Skonberg and Gary Giddins, honoring Lil Hardin Armstrong, Red Nichols, Fletcher Henderson and more!

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“A PRINCE OF A GUY”

MARIANNE MANGAN REMEMBERS LEROY “SAM” PARKINS

A PRINCE OF A GUY

Prequel: After spending a wonderful week in Israel (during which time he had, curiously or presciently, found the spot where he wanted his cremated ashes scattered), Sam Parkins fell gravely ill. We lost him on November 18, 2009.

Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye
I Wish That I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate
I’m A Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas
On the Alamo
These were the songs that Sam choose to play (and sing boisterously!) as solos over this last year or so since I met him. And what a Sam list it is: ebullient, eccentric, retro but vividly alive, audience-engaging, and-in the case of “On the Alamo”-very, very tender.

Sam’s musical artistry was all this. He played clarinet and tenor saxophone with a gutsy intensity that could blow right through you, but sometimes the yearning tore you in half instead. He worked professionally in idioms ranging from classical (his training) to post-swing to traditional (his heartbeat). This last year found him playing with musicians spanning 60 years in age, including regular appearances with the Gotham Jazzmen and Ronnie Washam & Friends and guesting with the Cangelosi Cards. Music never got old for Sam. There was always a new clarinet on the horizon.

And that wasn’t the half of it, either. The record business knew him as a first-rate producer for over 25 years, issuing albums of artists as diverse as Charles Ives to Cecil Taylor to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band-and in his humanistic way he championed them all. (He also won a European Grammy, 4 Grammy nominations and was praised by Gary Giddins in a recent online interview as a “solid, canny producer.”) He composed chorales of startling complexity with lyrics based on Biblical references. His engrossing, ever-evolving memoir and/or ebook chronicled the musical/political/social/historical/personal cataclysms and vagaries of the last three-quarters of a century in an emotive-intellectual-poetic style, Pauline Kael crossed with Dylan Thomas.

My husband, writer Robert Levin, and I came to know Sam through the NYC traditional jazz scene and he embraced us immediately. At one point, at his request, we’d hoped to work with him on his voluminous “Journey to Bohemia” project. As can happen, however, with 3 professional agendas, he wanted both too much and too little from us, and after a delightful but revealing dinner at his apartment we realized with heavy hearts that we would have to extricate ourselves from involvement. BUT: Not to worry, dear people, said he, let’s just be friends!

So Sam. It seems clear that this smart man was remarkably able to reconcile conflicting styles, eras, genres, desires, people, and get to the good part. He knew what to keep, and he had about a billion friends because of that. Also, because he LOVED them, and so many things. He loved riding his bicycle in Central Park. He loved his cats. He loved sharing nature photography. He loved his country. He missed his wife.

And it was so Sam of the life-affirming Mr. Parkins to die on vacation, seeing beautiful things, visiting dear friends, choosing where he wanted to Rest (but maybe not so soon). Goodbye tootsie goodbye, you ding dong daddy you–and may flights of angels…

R.I.P.  LEROY “SAM” PARKINS

Postscript: the photograph of Sam was taken at the 2008 New Year’s Eve party at David Ostwald’s apartment.  David is to Sam’s left, Howard Alden and Joe Muranyi to his right.

WHAT’S THE MAGIC WORD?

Before recordings and sound film changed the world, music didn’t travel well.  Myth says that you could hear Buddy Bolden’s horn miles away, but trumpet players know that is unlikely.  You certainly couldn’t have the complete Jelly Roll Morton Library of Congress recordings on a little box in your shirt pocket. 

Recordings, then sound film, made it possible for music to be portable, reproduced, and represented far away in time and space from its origins.  Preservation is an extraordinary gift, letting us visit the dead and cherish them whenever we want.  When the Ellington band played RING DEM BELLS on a Victor record or in a 1930 film, thousands who would never see that band live could experience it. 

But “representation” is never flawless, because all individual perspectives are necessarily subjective.  A recording engineer or cameraman captures one version of what listeners experience.  Most recordings and films seem, at best, to compress the exuberance of the artists.  Jazz anecdotal history is full of the names of great performers who, we are told, never “came though whole” in the recording studio.  And films  — even contemporary performance films — have their own, sometimes intrusive, conventions that must be obeyed.     

Our texts for today are two representations of Bing Crosby singing PLEASE.  The music is by the sadly short-lived Ralph Rainger, the lyrics by Leo Robin, and Bing first performed in the 1932 film THE BIG BROADCAST, one of Paramount’s efforts to get all the musical stars it could assemble into one film, to lure people away from their radios and back into the movie theatres.  The plot of this film is exceedingly foolish, but it’s only an excuse for a now irreplaceable variety show.     Bing Please 2

And here’s the performance itself — all too brief:

I love the flimsy fictions that this clip requires a viewer to accept.  I think, just before it begins, Bing says to his pal, guitarist Eddie Lang, “Well, let’s run it through again,” suggesting that they are rehearsing a new number.  He holds the sheet music, but casually.  And Lang is not paying much attention to the music on top of the piano.  (He was a wonderfully subtle player, never equalled.)  Do you hear a piano?  Who’s playing it?  The invisible but entirely sympathetic pianist is Lennie Hayton, which suggests that Bing and Eddie were adeptly (and not in close-up) miming to an already-recorded track, which was common practice.

Because it is a rehearsal in someone’s home (is it Eddie’s?), Bing has his vest, suit jacket, and hat off.  Our eyes are drawn to his natty two-tone shoes as he keeps the beat.  Then, after the first sixteen bars, a delightfully fictive moment occurs when Bing grins like a boy who has gotten away with three cookies instead of two and tells Eddie, “Well, I think I know it.”  (The record of PLEASE was released to coincide with the movie’s premiere, so Bing’s fans in the audience might have already had the Brunswick record while onscreen their hero was pretending he was learning the song.  But in the darkness of the movie theatre, such facts might be brushed aside.) 

Confident now, Bing launches into his own version of romantic scat singing, flicking his eyes to the ceiling, and begins getting dressed.  

Frank Tuttle, the director of THE BIG BROADCAST, wrote in an unpublished memoir (which I found in Gary Giddins’s wonderful Crosby biography), “Bing didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands. . . . [he] was extremely cooperative and his sense of comedy was first-rate from the opening shot.  His approach was casual and he liked to move around.  We worked out interesting pieces of business so that he wouldn’t have to just stand there and deliver a number.” 

Thus, the striptease in reverse — bolstering the illusion that Bing was only a regular fellow who just happens to burst into song with such art.  We know this isn’t true, but watching Bing sing while getting dressed is rather like watching him sing while changing a flat tire — a splendid feat.  I don’t know if it was intentional, for comedy, or not, but Bing has some small difficulty getting his other arm into his vest, and he goes through a good deal of straightening and smoothing — while singing — before beginning to button it.  Once the vest is on, he is clearly loosening up the rhythm, and gently swinging PLEASE, confidently and cheerfully, wooing the imaginary girl right out of her reluctance, and perhaps out of her vest.  What man ever buttoned his vest with such swing, using each button as a visual accent?  Bing emphasizes the beat, bobbing his head.  It’s comic but understated.  It’s jazz made visual.  

Next comes the jacket — and Bing has more trouble finding the armhole while he makes the dramatic musical transition from “a gloomy Romeo” to “Oh, please . . . ” most endearing.  In fact, his fumbling with his right arm behind his back seems to go on and on, although he is whistling prettily, unfazed by the burden of getting dressed.  Then, there’s no need to pretend that this has been a “rehearsal,” as Bing and Eddie perform the closing phrase together, and Bing, hat cocked jauntily, tells Eddie, “Well, I’ll see you tonight,” and Eddie answers, “OK.”  Hardly Lubitsch, but entrancing in its pretend-casualness. 

And he sings so beautifully to Lang’s fetching accompaniment, their work mixing romanticism and swing, the effect both earnest and funny.  I found myself listening to the clip for the music — both casual and deliciously light, then watching the two men act (Lang, serious, plays the musical sidekick, never taking the spotlight away from Bing).

Bing Please

Bing’s performance of the song in the film and on the hit record spurred Paramount to make a short film (rather like the Mack Sennett shorts Bing had starred in).  I found a copy of the poster on eBay, and a wonderful piece of Art Deco foolishness it is, with a pretty blonde’s disembodied head grinning from the C in CROSBY; Bing playing the guitar (which he couldn’t) wearing something like a bathrobe, the lower half of his body swallowed up by the background.

PLEASE stars Bing, Mary Kornman (who was “Mary” in OUR GANG silents and worked with Bing in other movies), with Vernon Dent (who worked with Sennett, Harry Langdon, and in numberless two-reel films with The Three Stooges) as her huffy, pudgy suitor.  Giddins writes that it was presumed lost until the 1990s and unearthed by film preservationist Bob DeFlores.

The plot is paper-thin: my summary comes from the Mary Kornman website (www.marykornman.com) which proves that everything is indeed online:

This movie, filmed on location at Yosemite National Park, was not discovered until 1960.  In it, Mary plays a voice teacher, Beth Sawyer, on whom Bing has set his affections.  Playing himself, Bing hides his identity as to finagle lessons out of Beth in order to get close to her. Mary then enters him in a singing contest only to find out Bing’s true identity.  Humiliated by this, Mary rejects Bing but is soon won over as he croons a chorus of “Please” through her parlor window.

Fictions abound here as well.  As the sequence begins, a beautifully dressed “Beth,” with matching hat, turns on her radio — and out comes the sound of a dance orchestra playing the song for which the movie is named.  Coincidentally, Bing, wearing a pristine straw boater and neat dark suit, lurks outside her house, dramatizing his exasperation by some gesturing with a small object he discards.  The camera cuts to a momentary shot of a huge man in soiled white painter’s overalls, momentarily transfixed by the music, who takes off his hat and puts it back on again.  Director Gillstrom had trained in silent films, for you can see the idea balloon form above Bing’s head, “Hey!  That’s my song!  I could sing it to her!  Through this open window!  Wow!  What an idea!  Gee!” 

“Beth” at first doesn’t even register that a man is nearly climbing through her open window, singing along with the radio (something that would make many women call 911).  It’s as if Mary Kornman has forgotten her cue, although she does remember to sulk while Bing sings.  He sings beautifully, but without Tuttle to remind him how to understate, his gestures are at war with the song’s wooing intimacy.  Using a clenched fist to signify “I could hold you tight in my arms” is unromantic, even though it is perhaps the only gesture possible for a man still holding his hat).  And Mary Kornman may have been a delectable little girl in silent comedies, but her acting is petulantly limited.  Bing emotes and “Beth” pouts, until his repetition of “Please!” win her over.  The lovers kiss, after a fashion; her dog turns its head away, and we are left hoping that they are going to be happy forevermore, even if she has to climb out of the window to be with Bing. 

But all this overacting doesn’t obscure the beauty of Bing’s voice, his phrasing, although I prefer the sound of the more casual version with Eddie Lang.     

Back to the song itself, one I’ve loved since adolescence.  When Bing was most popular as a romantic crooner, jazzmen, inspired by his recordings, took his repertoire for their own.  Think of I SURRENDER, DEAR and WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS!  Louis, Billie, and Hawkins (who memorably recorded I’VE GOT TO SING A TORCH SONG, WITH EVERY BREATH I TAKE, and JUST ONE MORE CHANCE).  Later on, Ruby Braff continued the tradition, including PLEASE and a whole album devoted to Bing.  But no one except John Gill has taken up the song, a pity.  I asked my Expert, Jon-Erik Kellso, about it, and he told me the melody line wasn’t easy for musicians who didn’t know the song to pick up on the spot.  If any musicians are reading this blog, would you please consider playing this song?  I’ll put more money in the tip jar when I hear it, I promise.

However, while researching this post, I also found a bouncy version of the song by Ambrose and his Orchestra.  This performance, however, deflates my theory about the song’s qualities.  Did it need Bing, John Gill, and Ruby to let its light shine through?  What you’ll hear is a fine 1932 dance record, but the yearning quality so essential to PLEASE is obliterated at this tempo.         

These clips remind me of truths that should be self-evident.  The young Crosby wasn’t an infallible actor; he needed a fine director to make sure that naturalness or “naturalness” prevailed.  But how he could sing!  And how splendidly Eddie Lang could play!  And they live in these filmed moments.   

So if someone asks you, reprovingly, “WHAT’S the magic word?” (if anyone uses that phrase today), you must respond, “It’s Bing Crosby singing PLEASE, of course.” (Thanks to Peter Karl for that witticism, again.)

CASSANDRA WILSON AND GARY GIDDINS IN CONVERSATION

While the stock market plunges, making some of us sleep badly and others nervously decide to keep that aging car for another year, it is consoling to have a free jazz event (at a humane time) to report.

Singer Cassandra Wilson, captured above in Jenny Bagert’s evocative portrait, will be talking with critic and essayist Gary Giddins at the CUNY Graduate Center (in the Elebash Recital Hall) on Thursday, October 9, at 6:30 PM.  The hall is located at 365 Fifth Avenue. Because admission is free and the hall seats fewer than 200 people, I would suggest that anyone interested arrive quite early.

Wilson will speak about her career as vocalist, bandleader, songwriter, and producer.  And I am sure that Giddins, ever gracious, will ask perceptive questions. Perhaps, on my behalf, someone in the audience will politely ask him when the second volume of his extraordinary biography of Bing Crosby will be published.

Thanks to poet and cultural sleuth Ana Bozicevic for news of this event . . . something to look forward to!  For more information, visit www.gc.cuny.edu. or call 212-817-2005.


PHIL SCHAAP, CHARLIE PARKER, DAVID REMNICK, THE NEW YORKER

About a week ago, the Beloved (who knows more about jazz than most people) told me excitedly that the latest issue of The New Yorker, a magazine I have been reading with some reverence since the late Sixties, had a Profile on the jazz broadcaster Phil Schaap, who’s been part of my musical consciousness for just as long. My first thought was, “Thank God! The New Yorker has rediscovered that jazz exists!” My second thought, an admittedly ignoble one, was “Why did it have to be a Profile of Phil?” Both those outbursts — idealistic and gloomy, require explication.

I first began reading the magazine because I so admired William Steig and the jazz critic Whitney Balliett. Years later, Balliett told me that when the mythic editor-in-chief William Shawn died, Tina Brown found jazz both reactionary and inexplicable, alien to the young moneyed readers she hoped to attract. Aside from a few surprisingly tepid pieces by Gary Giddins, The New Yorker seems to have considered jazz another version of model trains in the basement, not worth notice.

So a Profile of Phil Schaap, who has devoted himself to jazz with Messianic fervor, seemed at first a turning point. For one thing, it wasn’t a piece about The Death of Jazz. And although Remnick’s reportage was often snide, Schaap — in action or at rest — offers even a casual observer mountains of evidence for that point of view. But Remnick fixated on Schaap as anomaly — a flagpole sitter or the last maker of wooden shoes in Canarsie. It was The Subject As Freak, as Amiable Oddity, echoing Joseph Mitchell’s portrayal of Joe Gould.

It may not have been Remnick’s intent, but someone who knows little of jazz as a music, who thinks it arcane, will have those preconceptions reinforced. “Look how weird jazz is!” Remnick appears to be saying. “Look at Phil Schaap, its New York spokesman!” It would be sad if readers came away with the vague, subliminal notion that they had been reading an essay about jazz because Schaap plays it on WKCR-FM every weekday morning. For all his good intentions and his desire to keep jazz alive, Schaap is an entity quite distinctly different from the music he occasionally lets us hear: the Commentator isn’t the Text, and often obliterates it.

I wrote this Letter to The Editor. Wonder if The New Yorker will print it. Tune in tomorrow, precisely.

I’ve been listening to Phil Schaap for thirty years — a lifetime of words — and found Remnick’s Profile both wickedly accurate and sad. Ironically, Schaap can no longer separate his cherished facts from the music he wants to preserve. Lost in the brushstrokes, he no longer sees the painting. But Schaap isn’t Charlie Parker and his monomania has little to do with jazz itself. To hear jazz in its native habitat, unsullied by talk, let Remnick visit The Ear Inn any Sunday night. I’ll buy the first two rounds.

Postscript: I do not know for how long The New Yorker keeps pieces online, but at this moment, anyone can go to www.newyorker.com and read the Schaap Profile. Reactions, anyone?