Tag Archives: George Barnes

IT’S ALL SO NICE: BENNY CARTER, GEORGE BARNES, RUBY BRAFF, MICHAEL MOORE, VINNIE CORRAO, RAY MOSCA (July 25, 1975)

George Barnes, guitar wizard

Not much explanation needed for what follows: a half-hour of divine live jazz performance recorded at the 1975 Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, France, featuring Benny Carter, alto saxophone; George Barnes, electric guitar; Ruby Braff, cornet; Michael Moore, string bass; Vinnie Corrao, rhythm guitar; Ray Mosca, drums — improvising on three jazz evergreens: JUST YOU, JUST ME; MEAN TO ME; TAKE THE “A” TRAIN:

And if you wonder why I didn’t preface this post with photographs of Benny Carter or Ruby Braff, both of whom I admire greatly, it’s because the world is full of guitar players, and I hope more of them wake up to George Barnes and start studying his works.  He deserves such reverent attention.  Also,  his characteristic pose reminds me of seeing him at close range in New York City, where he always surprised and delighted.  Always himself, always brilliantly recognizable in two notes.  All right, one note.

To learn more, visit George Barnes, Guitar Legend on Facebook and the George Barnes Legacy Collection in the larger cyber-world, splendid informative sites created and maintained by Alexandra Barnes Leh, the loving curator of all things Barnes and daughter of George and Evelyn.

There are a few more video performances by this sacred assemblage, and I might be able to unearth them for you. . . .if, of course, there’s interest.  Are you out there?

May your happiness increase!

SHOOT FIRST. ASK QUESTIONS LATER.

Zoot, riding the range.

The splendid people at jgautographs (on eBay) have reached into the apparently bottomless treasure chest and come up with an assortment of photographs for sale.  The auction has a time limit, so don’t (as we say) dither.

Bill, Kenny, and Bob, also riding the range, although dressed like city slickers.

Question: what do Bobby Hackett, George Barnes, Flip Phillips, Bob Wilber, Bud Freeman, Connie Jones, Max Kaminsky, Joe Venuti, Lou Stein, Joe Wilder, Zoot Sims, Ralph Sutton, Kenny Davern, Dick Wellstood, Scott Hamilton, Milt Hinton, Bucky and John Pizzarelli, Greg Cohen, Dick Hyman, Urbie Green, Trummy Young, Vic Dickenson, Hank Jones, Bob Haggart, Dick Cathcart, Jess Stacy, Joe Bushkin, Dave McKenna, John Best, Franz Jackson, Wild Bill Davison, Butch Miles, Jack Lesberg, Dick Johnson, Bob Havens, and a few others have in common . . . . aside from their musical glories?

Urbie, the one, the only.

Answer: They were all caught in performance by Al White and his roving camera (many of them at Dick Gibson’s Colorado jazz parties) — asked to sign the photos — the ones I’ve seen have all been inscribed to Al — and these 8 x 10″ black and white beauties are now being offered at the site above.

In 2000, Al and Ralph Sutton’s biographer James D. Schacter created a large-format book, JAZZ PARTY, with over a hundred of these inscribed photographs, but that book is now out of print, although copies can be found.

Al started life as an amateur drummer and jazz fan, then put on concerts and parties in Arkansas . . . . and at some point began to specialize in candid shots of the musicians he admired.

The noble Dick Cathcart.

The photographs offered on eBay have, for me, a special resonance.  For a moment in time, Bobby or Urbie had to touch this piece of paper to sign it, so they are beautiful artifacts or relics or what you will.

I’ve been running out of wall space for some time now (and it would be disrespectful as well as damp to start hanging photographs in the bathroom) so the field is clear for you to visually admire and place bids, even though I might be tempted in two days and twenty-something hours.

I thought you might like some jazz-party-jazz, so here is the priceless 1977 color film (102 minutes) of the Dick Gibson party, “The Great Rocky Mountain Jazz Party,” featuring everyone:

May your happiness increase!

SWEET CREATIONS: “DREAM CITY”: DAVID LUKÁCS, MALO MAZURIÉ, ATTILA KORB, FÉLIX HUNOT, JOEP LUMEIJ

David Lukács dreams in lyrical swing.  His most recent CD is evidence that I do not exaggerate.  Now, I know that some of my American readers might furrow their brows and say, “Who are these people?  I don’t know their names!” but I urge them to listen and watch.

To quote the lyrics from SAY IT SIMPLE (I hear Jack Teagarden’s voice in my head as I type), “If that don’t get it, well, forget it right now.”

Here you can hear the music, download it, purchase a disc.

The sweet-natured magicians are David Lukacs, clarinet, tenor saxophone, arrangements; Malo Mazurie, cornet, trumpet; Attila Korb, bass saxophone*, trombone; Felix Hunot, guitar, banjo; Joep Lumeij: string bass.  The songs are DREAM CITY / A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND / OLD MAN BLUES / MORE THAN YOU KNOW / THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC / MOONLIGHT ON THE GANGES / I HAD IT BUT IT’S ALL GONE NOW / HALLELUJAH! / BLUE PRELUDE / MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND / THEN SOMEONE’S IN LOVE / LOUISIANA / CLARINET MARMALADE / MANOIR DE MES REVES.  The liner notes are by Scott Robinson.

David told me that this CD is inspired by his father’s record collection (obviously the Lukacs lineage has taste and discernment) but his vision is even larger: “With this album I created my own city, my Dream City, where there’s Bix and Tram’s music in one club, Duke is playing in the theatre beside, and you might hear Django’s music around the corner.”

That transcends the time-machine cliche, and each track is a dreamy vision of a heard past made real for us in 2019. The dreaminess is most charming, because this disc isn’t simply a series of recreations of recordings.  Occasionally the band follows the outlines of a famous disc closely — as in A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND — but each song becomes a sweet playground for these (sometimes shoeless) dear geniuses to roam in.

Here’s another video tour, with snippets of the title tune, OLD MAN BLUES, MOONLIGHT ON THE GANGES, MANOIR DE MES REVES (and comments from Scott, who knows):

Readers who feel this music as I do won’t need any more explanation — but a few lines are in order.  I first heard David on record with Menno Daams (check out the latter’s PLAYGROUND) — two musicians who have deep lyrical intelligence, but DREAM CITY is an astonishing combination of the hallowed past and true contemporary liveliness.  David told me that he has been inspired not only by the old records, but by the music Marty Grosz and others made, using those sounds as a basis.  I hear echoes of the Ruby Braff-George Barnes Quartet and the small-group sessions that were so prolific and gratifying on the Arbors label.

DREAM CITY offers us glorious yet understated solo work and — perhaps even better — delicious ensemble playing and gratifying arrangements.  The inspirations are also the Kansas City Six, the Ellington, Basie, and Wilson small bands, and more.  You can draw your own family tree with chalk on the sidewalk.  The “unusual” instrumentation also allows a great flexibility in voicings — this is no formulaic band that plays each song in the same way, simply varying tempo and key — and this CD is not a series of solos-with-rhythm.  Each selection, none longer than a 12″ 78, is a short story in sounds.

If you care to, go back to the video of DREAM CITY — which begins, if I am correct, with a line on the chords of BYE BYE BLUES and then changes key into a medium-bounce blues — and admire not only the soloing, so tersely expert, so full of feeling without self-consciousness — but the arrangement itself: the quiet effective way horns hum behind a soloist, the use of stop-time and a Chicago “flare,” the echoes of Bix and Tram without tying the whole endeavor to a 1927 skeleton . . . worth study, deserving of admiration.

All of the players impress me tremendously, but Attila gets his own * (and that is not the title of a children’s book) because I’d not known of his bass saxophone playing: he is a master of that horn, handling it with elegance and grace, sometimes giving it a limber ease I would associate with the bass clarinet, although he never hurries.  (I also discovered Attila’s 2017 TAP ROOM SWING, a tribute to Adrian Rollini, which I hope to write about in future.)

I plan to continue blissfully dreaming to DREAM CITY, an ethereal soundtrack, so rewarding.

May your happiness increase!

HOT MUSIC, GOOD STORIES, LASTING FRIENDSHIP, KINDNESSES: HANK O’NEAL RECALLS SQUIRREL ASHCRAFT (Nov. 2, 2018)

Here is one perspective on Hank O’Neal — writer, archivist, record producer, photographer, friend of Djuna Barnes, Berenice Abbott . . . and many jazz musicians from Willie “the Lion” Smith to Borah Bergman.  Hank is also an incredible resource and storyteller, someone I am thrilled to call a friend: reasons that Hank visits JAZZ LIVES, as he speaks with great fondness of Squirrel Ashcraft.  If you say, “Wow, Squirrel!” then you have come to the right place.  If you say, “Who IS that?” you’re also in for pleasure and enlightenment.

Hank O’Neal by Annie Tritt for the Boston Globe, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And since Hank is a masterful photographer, here is another character study, one I like even more — shot by Sherry Sereboff (2017, near Fort Worth, Texas) even better.  When I meet Hank next, I will ask what was on his plate:

I had asked Hank to speak about Squirrel for JAZZ LIVES, and the conversation began very informally, as he was paging through Edwin “Squirrel” Ashcraft’s scrapbook.  I just started videoing . . . with happy results — little anecdotes about sacred objects connected to Bix, Tesch, and Dick Voynow.  But for future researchers, any time someone you respect says the words, “Letters from Brad Gowans,” you know something important is being revealed:

“Who was Squirrel Ashcraft and how did I meet him?”:

Paging through Squirrel’s 1928-9 notebook, “JAZZ MUSIC,” with entries devoted to the Wolverines, Hoagy Carmichael, Benny Goodman, the Georgians, Jack Pettis, Leon Roppolo, Henderson’s adaptation of RHAPSODY IN BLUE, and more:

I first learned about Squirrel through EDDIE CONDON’S SCRAPBOOK OF JAZZ (a book Eddie did with Hank) and then through Squirrel’s home recordings, later issued on rare lps by . . . Hank.  Here’s the story of Squirrel’s career — about fifteen years — as an archivist of home recordings, often aluminum, including performances by Johnny Mercer, Joe Rushton, Jimmy McParland, George Barnes, Boyce Brown, Bob Zurke, Spencer Clark, Rosy McHargue, also Joe Rushton, his motorcycle, and Pee Wee Russell, and Squirrel’s later playing career in Washington, D.C., and sidelights on Jean Bach, Jimmy Dorsey, and jazz reunions at Princeton University from 1975-79:

Finally . . . Hank brings us up to date (Squirrel died in 1981, but his relics are going to a good place.  And don’t miss the story about the Bob Crosby band: Squirrel and friends obviously knew how to live:

The best part of this story, just over an hour with Hank, is his obvious affection and indebtedness to Squirrel, and Squirrel’s sweet feelings for the music and musicians.  Thank you, Hank, for making the reclusive Squirrel appear to us in this century.

And . . . because Hank is a wonderful writer, here’s his “little piece” on Squirrel from his book on pianists. Some of the stories you will have heard from the videos above, but they don’t wilt with a second telling:

SQUIRREL ASHCRAFT
September 20, 1905 – January 18, 1981

Edwin Maurice Ashcraft III, better known as “Squirrel”, is the least known pianist in this book, but he was by far the most important to me. It all started because of two courses I’d taken at Syracuse University; one in Russian Studies and another in African Studies. The Russian Studies course ultimately led me to be employed by the Central Intelligence Agency. The African Studies course, particularly one taught by Eduardo Mondlane, who was later to lead and win the revolution in Mozambique, led me to the CIA’s Office of Operations, where Squirrel Ashcraft was the Director.

Though forgotten today, Squirrel was a legendary figure in the world of jazz, at least into the mid-1970s, but much can be lost and forgotten in a quarter of a century. He was, for example, the only person I knew who had heard Louis Armstrong and King Oliver at the Lincoln Gardens, and had known and associated with a host of other legendary players from the 1920s, who were just names in a book or music in the grooves of old records to me. He was the kind of man who could make a simple telephone call and John Hammond, Neshui or Ahmet Ertegun would welcome me warmly. The same was true of any number of musicians of a certain age, i.e. the Austin High Gang, and their musical associates or disciples.

He was the first jazz artist I ever heard perform in an informal setting, that is away from a concert hall or club, where I was a paying spectator. By that time, he was in his 60s, hadn’t played regularly for years, never had been a first rank player anyway, and now had an affliction in one of his hands that affected his dexterity. But for someone of my age, and limited experience, it was more thrilling to be standing two feet from a legendary figure in his living room than hearing a great pianist from the top balcony in Carnegie Hall.

He was also the man who first introduced me to an active jazz musician, in this case, Jimmy McPartland. Later, he would introduce me to many others, and simply because he made the introduction, I was accepted by these men and women without question.

A little background is in order. Squirrel was born in Evanston, Illinois in 1905. His family was socially prominent and well situated. In the early 1920s he discovered jazz and became as deeply involved with it as possible. He was active in Chicago in the same way John Hammond was in New York, and he met many of the up and coming young jazz musicians in that city long before they had come up, befriended them, helped them whenever possible, and continued to for years and years.

Squirrel came east in the late 1920’s and attended Princeton. He played both piano and accordion, was part of Princeton’s Triangle Club, wrote songs, recorded with the Triangle Jazz Band, was known to and played informally with such legendary figures as Bix Beiderbecke, and even corralled the elusive cornet player one night, convincing him to record with the Princeton band. It almost came off, but not quite; Bix was there when everyone fell asleep but had vanished when they woke up. He continued at Princeton, but eventually returned to Chicago in the early 1930s, and took up his post in the family law firm.

He opened his home to every jazz musician who could find their way to Evanston, and hundreds did, usually on Monday nights. The sessions at Squirrel’s featured a who’s who of whoever was in Chicago at the time. He began to record these proceedings in about 1933 and, until he left for World War II, hundreds of private discs were made, sometimes with the help of his friend John Steiner. Steiner eventually issued some of the goings-on on Paramount 78 rpm discs and later on 10” LPs.

World War II closed down the Monday night sessions; Squirrel was inducted in the U.S Navy, and assigned to naval intelligence. After the war, he returned to Chicago, his law practice, and the music and recording began again, this time on a crude tape recorder that used paper tape. The music didn’t last long, however, because in the late 1940s Squirrel was selected by the fledgling Central Intelligence Agency to run its Chicago field office, and the music slowed down once again. He was so good at the CIA game, he was urged to become the Director of all domestic operations in the early 1950’s.

Squirrel accepted the challenge, closed down the house in Evanston, moved to Washington, and vanished into another world, his whereabouts unknown, except to the musicians and friends with whom he kept in touch. There were no sessions at Squirrel’s massive apartment in Washington. When I arrived on the scene in 1964, his piano sounded a bit like one from a Charles Addams’ haunted house. But that was soon to change.

Suddenly there was someone around who knew his past, and even had one of those old John Steiner-issued Paramount records to prove it. I was the junior guy in the Office of Operations, but I had immediate access to the Director because of the music. This is when I learned that love of jazz of a certain sort could cross any cultural divide, regardless of age, race, or anything else.

It didn’t take long before the piano was tuned and regulated, and informal musical gatherings began. The first was with Jimmy and Marian McPartland, and two wonderful local Washington musicians, clarinetist Tommy Gwaltney (who founded and owned Blues Alley) and guitarist Steve Jordan. Squirrel got his hands back in shape, so he could spell Marian when she wanted to relax and, just like in the old days, everything was recorded. The first “new” informal session was eventually issued as a record that was given away to anyone who wanted one. I cut my recording teeth on Squirrel’s Ampex F-44 and two Electrovoice microphones.

Listening back to the old acetate and aluminum recordings from the 1930s, Squirrel reminds me of a pianist like Frank Melrose. A great deal more passion than technique, but good enough to get the job done. He was a better than average amateur in those days, and could easily hold his own with his peers, and provide good accompaniment to A-list artists when it was required. I remember him telling me that one night the entire Bob Crosby band came out to his house for a Monday night session. The thing that pleased him most was that the first complaint was from a neighbor whose house was three blocks away. And he got to play with the band when Bob Zurke was doing something else.

Squirrel’s influence in the jazz world was not as a pianist. He was always behind the scenes and, eventually, way behind the scenes. If Eddie Condon couldn’t get a liquor license to open Condon’s; Squirrel could make the call to the right person so it could be worked out, despite the checkered past of some of the club’s owners. If a certain player were down on his luck, there would be a check in the mail. There were any number of people he supported for life. He was a safety net for many, many of the first generation of jazz musicians, and probably some of the second and third. My guess is he was a safety net for a lot of people I didn’t know about, musicians, old friends down on their luck, or even a struggling bullfighter.

After he officially retired in the late 1960’s, Squirrel spent less and less time in Washington and more time at his home in Spain. Sometimes a year would pass and I wouldn’t see him, except perhaps to see him off on either the ocean liners Michaelangelo or Rafaello, his favorite modes of transportation between New York and Spain. When in Spain, he had little time for music, but towards the end of a letter from there, dated November 12, 1969, he says, “We are listening, which we do seldom at all, to Miles’ Sketches, and I wish so very, very much that Bix could have heard it…. We think about you often. Please write the whole story.” I’m not sure I ever did, but in the 1970s, and early 1980s, he had a burst of musical energy, at least every June, for half a dozen years.

In 1975, Jack Howe liberated a funny little band, affectionately called The Sons of Bix, from cornetist Tom Pletcher. Jack was an amateur tenor saxophone player, who’d been part of the in the Princeton Triangle Jazz band with Squirrel in the 1920s. He augmented the SOBs with Princeton alumni musicians, aided by the likes of Spencer Clarke, Bob Haggart, Max Kaminsky, Maxine Sullivan and others. The band only had one certain engagement each year, to play a class reunion at Princeton. It turned out, however, the band played the reunion of the Class of 1929 or the Class of 1930, every year until at least 1982. Squirrel actually played a little piano on all the dates until 1981. I recorded the performances, which, as often as not, were presented in tents. Squirrel and Jack then chose their favorite tunes, and I arranged for a few LPs to be pressed up and distributed to the dwindling faithful. The records are often spirited, but not landmark recordings. A friendly souvenir, but little more. Much to my surprise, some of them have been listed in Tom Lord’s landmark The Jazz Discography.

In those years, if I had to be in Washington, for whatever reason, Squirrel’s Watson Place apartment was always open, whether Squirrel and his wife, Patter, were in residence or not. I haven’t stayed in a hotel in Washington since 1960; but to confess, I only went back a few times after Squirrel died in 1981. The last time I was there was at the urging of his wife. She telephoned in the mid-1980s and said she was cleaning out files and had found some correspondence from me in a box of music-related junk in the back of a closet. Would I please come down and save all these found items from the trash collector? I was also urged to pick up the crank-up Victrola with the bamboo needle cutter that was now stored in the basement. I’d first seen it at an old filling station somewhere in Virginia in the mid-1960s, offered the owner $10, which he was happy to have, and had passed it on to Squirrel, so he could play his old Hot Five 78s as he played them in the 1920s, when they were fresh and new. I was happy to have it back, and it still works just fine.

I drove down, had a nice visit with Patter, and loaded all the papers, the boxes of stuff she’d found in the closet, and the old Victrola in the back of my car. I had a last look around, and never went back, but stayed in touch with Patter until she became ill and her Alzheimer’s progressed to the point where she didn’t know who I was.

When I got home after that last trip, I had a good time looking at the correspondence, the old clippings from the 1930’s and 1940s. At the bottom of the box I saved from the trash man, I found the bell of a battered cornet, with a note from Jimmy McPartland. This was all that was left of the cornet Bix had bought him, when Jimmy replaced Bix in the Wolverines. This was the kind of thing that turned up at Sqiurrel’s house. And I’ll bet things like that don’t turn up too many other places.

Squirrel Ashcraft was a kind and generous man who touched the lives of many men and women in a positive way. When he found time to touch a piano, it was equally positive. I never heard him play the blues.

May your happiness increase!

MORE INSTANT YET LASTING GRATIFICATION (Part Two): “ANIMULE DANCE” at the LOVELACE: EVAN ARNTZEN, SEAN CRONIN, ADAM BRISBIN (August 10, 2018)

Here‘s the first part of the music I captured on a glorious afternoon at the Lovelace (66 Pearl Street, New York City) courtesy of three generous stirring improvisers: Sean Cronin, string bass; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Adam Brisbin, guitar: WHO’S SORRY NOW?, BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU, and ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM.

And a few more wonders from that day, full of heartfelt surging energies.

Let’s call a heart a heart. Explanation below.

MY BLUE HEAVEN, with a wonderful funky Forties rocking motion, and a charming vocal by Evan:

a collective assent from the band, ‘DEED I DO, rocked in by that rhythm section, with an affirmation from Sean:

No co-pay for this healing visit to Doctor Morton; Evan explains the procedure:

A wonderful change of pace in Tizol’s CARAVAN:

and another serving of cage-free Jelly Roll, GRANDPA’S SPELLS:

It is a tremendous comfort to me to know that such glorious inventiveness exists, that it is within my reach (a walk, a train, a subway, a walk) and that I can capture it for our collective joy.  Thank you to the Animule Dance, to their friends and mine, and Richard of Lovelace.  There’s still more to come.

And . . . in case you thought I’d forgotten, the story of the heart drawn in colored pencils.  I don’t know during which performance it happened, but a beautiful little girl (Romy was nine, and French) came up and gave Sean, I think, her drawing.  What better emblem of the great truth, that music goes right to our hearts?

May your happiness increase!

INSTANT YET LASTING GRATIFICATION (Part One): “ANIMULE DANCE” at the LOVELACE: EVAN ARNTZEN, SEAN CRONIN, ADAM BRISBIN (August 10, 2018)

Pleasure can be evanescent, but the kind I experienced yesterday will last.

Adam Brisbin (by Joanna Sternberg)

I am thrilled to share some instant yet lasting gratification from the “Animule Dance,” a trio of Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal; Sean Cronin, string bass, vocal; Adam Brisbin, guitar, vocal, that I recorded at The Lovelace, 66 Pearl Street in downtown Manhattan, New York City, on August 10, 2018.

Sean Cronin (by Aidan Grant)

I had been admiring these three heroes in various contexts, most recently as three-fifths of Tamar Korn’s Wildwood Ramblers (you can find delicious performances just recently posted on JAZZ LIVES) but it was so much fun to meet them as a trio.  They are delightfully unified: they pick up each other’s cues, making for inspired musical conversation.

Evan Arntzen, the Lady Scout Opatut, and her green fan (by Voon Chew)

This was my first visit to The Lovelace, where Emily Asher most often leads the band (she was out of town).  I delighted in the place itself.  Drinking and video don’t mix, but the Lovelace specializes in gin drinks, with a menu that I plan to explore.  The food was first-rate (which isn’t always the case) and the room felt warm and open: thanks to Richard, behind the bar and taking care of everything else.

But since I can’t pour you a gin and bitter lemon nor pass a plate of fish and chips through the computer, I will rely on the music to spread joy.

Here are three glowing examples of the Animule Dance’s swing, versatility, and good feeling.  There will be more.

Asking the musical question, WHO’S SORRY NOW?

Sean’s very tender reading of the Waller-Razaf lament, BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU:

and this bubbly performance of Ellington’s 1930 ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM — reminiscent to me of George Barnes and Ruby Braff — a performance I am thrilled to have my name attached to:

May your happiness increase!

JAMES BIRKETT AND EMMA FISK PLAY VENUTI AND LANG, WITH GREAT AFFECTION AND EXPERTISE

The back covers of the long-playing records of my youth often were adorned with thumbnail photographs of other record covers, and this solicitation, “If you’ve enjoyed this LONG PLAY record, you’ll be sure to enjoy . . . .”

If you savor beautifully recorded chamber jazz, swinging yet leisurely, you’ll be sure to enjoy the new CD by guitarist James Birkett and violinist Emma Fisk, devoted to the music of Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang.

Since Eddie’s death in 1933, there have been many attempts to recreate the magic the two Italian boys from Philadelphia created: Venuti himself always looked for guitarists who could come close to Eddie’s splendors: Dick McDonough, Frank Victor, Tony Romano, Bucky Pizzarelli, Carl Kress, Perry Botkin, Bobby Sherwood, George Barnes, Tony Gottuso, Danny Perri, Barney Kessel, Lino Patruno attempted to fill that role on record dates and more.

As I write this, Nick Rossi, Kris Tokarski, and Glenn Crytzer are involved in similar small group projects, and I know I am leaving someone out.  Matt Munisteri does a peerless Lang behind John Gill’s Bing.  Martin Wheatley and Spats Langham both understand him deeply.

Venuti was a hard act to follow — I am leaving aside the sometimes cruel practical jokes — but he was often in love with speed and execution, and many violinists have tried to out-Joe Joe, playing his intricate originals faster and faster.  (Performance speeds have been inching up for decades: consider the Django-phenomenon.)  And for most instrumentalists, not just string players, tone gets sacrificed to speed.

Emma Fisk, a romantic at heart, doesn’t turn Joe into unicorns-and-rainbows on this CD, but she does remind us of Joe’s affectionate side, the part of his character that would linger over long tones and leisurely phrases.  She doesn’t slow everything down, but she does change the mood from headlong briskness to a kinder, easier embrace.  In this she is partnered splendidly by the elegant guitarist James Birkett, who is lyrical beyond everything else.  He is new to me, but he is kind to the ears at every turn, without being overly sentimental.  So even the faster numbers on this disc — RAGGIN’ and MY HONEY’S — are sweet saunters instead of being mad sprints.  The music breathes comfortably and well.

Here you can witness Emma and James making music — video and audio — through the media of Vimeo, Soundcloud, and YouTube.  And here you can celebrate the Spring, reward yourself for good behavior, or warm someone’s heart — by buying one or more of these life-enhancing discs.

A delightfully mournful sample, James’ EDDIE’S LAMENT:

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS RUBY BRAFF (December 15, 2017)

 

To get us in the proper mood, here are Ruby Braff and Dick Hyman investigating Benny Carter’s ONCE UPON A TIME, a performance that has its light-hearted moments and a very touching ending:

and why stop with one performance only?  SWEET SAVANNAH SUE is one of my favorite recordings of the thousands Ruby created:

Dan’s first musing on Ruby mentions some mutual friends — Ruby’s bio-discographer Tom Hustad, Sam Margolis, Jack Bradley, Loren Schoenberg — but keeps on returning to the well-seasoned enigma that was Ruby himself:

Here is a musical interlude whose relevance will become clear to the conscientious:

More tales of Ruby, Dick Gibson, Ruby in hospice, friends and former friends:

Finally, Ruby and Dick Sudhalter, Ruby as record reviewer, and sidelights on Kenny Dorham and Miles Davis, who will be the subject of the next videos:

I find Dan’s reminiscences invaluable.  He was there.  But more than that, his sharp, friendly observations make a scene come alive.  And he’s taught me an invaluable lesson about interviewing . . . to stay out of the interviewee’s way.  I’ve learned that Dan’s zigzag paths are much more interesting than any list of questions I might have prepared.  Take it from me.

May your happiness increase!

ECUMENICAL PLEASURES: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT (August 14, 2016) PART ONE: TERRY WALDO, CHUCK WILSON, JIM FRYER, JAY LEONHART, JAY LEPLEY

In my adolescence, I read every jazz book on the shelves of the very well-stocked suburban public library.  I didn’t understand everything I read (when one reads Andre Hodeir’s harsh analysis of, say, Dickie Wells’ later style without having the musical examples at hand, it is an oddly unbalanced experience) but I absorbed as much as I could, from Rudi Blesh to Barry Ulanov and beyond.

I remember clearly that some of the history-of-jazz books (each with its own ideological slant) used diagrams, in approved textbook fashion, for readers who needed an easy visual guide.  Often, the diagram was a flow chart —

Blank-flow-chart

Sometimes the charts were location-based: New Orleans branched out into Chicago, New York City, Kansas City (as if the authors were tracing the path of an epidemic).  More often, they depicted “schools” and “styles”: Ragtime, New Orleans, Dixieland, Chicago jazz, Early Big Bands, Stride Piano, The Swing Era, Fifty-Second Street, Bebop, Modern . . .

Sectarian art criticism, if you will.  You had different dishes for New Orleans and Modern; you didn’t eat Dixieland on Fridays.  And you had to wait two hours before going in the water. It also supported mythic constructs: the earliest jazz styles were the Truth and everything else was degenerate art, or the notion that every new development was an improvement on its primitive ancestor.

The critics and journalists loved these fantasies; the musicians paid little attention.  Although you wouldn’t find Wingy Manone playing ANTHROPOLOGY, such artificial boundaries didn’t bother George Barnes, Joe Wilder, or Milt Hinton (the latter eminence having recorded with Tiny Parham, Eddie South, Clifford Brown, and Branford Marsalis).

Happily, the musicians are able to assemble — in the most friendly ways — wherever there is a paying gig.  No one has to wear a t-shirt embossed with his or her allegiance and stylistic categorization.  Such a gathering took place on Sunday, August 14, 2016, in the basement of 75 Christopher Street, New York City — known in the guidebooks as FAT CAT, although there are many variants on that title.

fatcat-2__large

The leader and organizer of this ecumenical frolic was Terry Waldo, pianist, ragtime scholar, vocalist, and composer.  For this session, his Gotham City Band was Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Jim Fryer (the Secret Marvel), trombone and vocal; Jay Leonhart, string bass and vocal; Jay Lepley, drums.

And here are four examples of the good feeling these musicians generated so easily.

DIGA DIGA DOO:

MEMORIES OF YOU (starting with Terry’s elaborate homage to its composer, Eubie Blake):

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (with a funny, theatrical vocal by Terry):

OLD FASHIONED LOVE (sung by the romantic Jim Fryer):

Once again, this post is dedicated to the inquiring scholar from Bahia, who sat to my left and brightened the room.

More to come.

May your happiness increase!

GEORGE BARNES COULD DO IT ALL, AND HE DID

"Georgie," youthful

“Georgie,” youthful.  Photograph reproduced with permission from the owner.  Copyright 2013 The George Barnes Legacy Collection.

Alec Wilder told George Barnes that the latter’s music offered “Reassurance, reaffirmation, wit, warmth, conviction and, best of all, hope!”  I agree.

I first heard the magnificent guitarist (composer, arranger) George Barnes without knowing it.  His sound cut through the Louis Armstrong Musical Autobiography sessions for Decca — in the late Sixties. Even listening to Louis — as any reasonable person does — I was aware of this wonderful speaking sound of George and his guitar: a man who had something important to tell us in a short space (say, four bars) and made the most of it.  Not loud, but not timid.

As I amassed more jazz records, George was immediately evident through his distinctive attack.  I believe that I took in more Barnes subliminally in those years, in the way I would hear Bobby Hackett floating above my head in Macy’s. (George recorded with Roy Smeck, Connie Francis, Richard M. Jones, Bill Harris, Anita O’Day, Artie Shaw, Pearl Bailey, Jeri Southern, Connee Boswell, the Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band, Dinah Washington, Coleman Hawkins, George Wettling, LaVern Baker, Earl Bostic, Joe Venuti, Sammy Davis Jr., Don Redman, Little Willie John, Della Reese, Dick Hyman, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Hans Conried, Solomon Burke, Sy Oliver, Buddy Rich, Bud Freeman, Tony Bennett, Bucky Pizzarelli, Carl Kress  — just to give you an idea of his range.  And those are only the sessions documented in jazz discographies.)

In the early Seventies I actually saw George and heard him play live — he was sometimes five or six feet from me — in the short-lived quartet he and Ruby Braff led.  And then he was gone, in September 1977.

But his music remains.

George Barnes Country JAzz

And here’s a new treasure — a double one, in fact.

Now, some of you will immediately visit here, bewitched and delighted, to buy copies.  You need read no more, and simply wait for the transaction to complete itself in the way you’ve chosen.  (Incidentally, on eBay I just saw a vinyl copy of this selling for $150.)

For the others. . . . I don’t know what your feelings are when seeing the words COUNTRY JAZZ.  Initially, I had qualms, because I’ grew up hearing homogenized “country and western” music that to me seems limited.  But when I turned the cardboard sleeve over and saw that Barnes and friends were improvising on classic Americana (OLD BLACK JOE, THE ARKANSAS TRAVELER, CHICKEN REEL, IN THE GLOAMING, MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME) I relaxed immediately.  No cliche-stew of wife / girlfriend / woman / dog / truck / rifle / beer / betrayal / pals here.  Call it roots music or Americana, but it’s not fake.

And the band is exciting: George on electric guitar, bass guitar, and banjo [his banjo feature is extraordinary]; Allan Hanlon, rhythm guitar; Jack Lesberg, string bass; Cliff Leeman, drums, percussion; Phil Kraus, vibes on one track; Danny Bank, mouth harp on one track.  The sixteen tracks (and one bonus) come from this 1957 session recorded for Enoch Light — in beautiful sound.  The improvisations rock; they are hilarious, gliding, funky, and usually dazzling. There’s not a corny note here.  And gorgeously expansive documentation, too.

george-barnes_thumb

That would be more than enough fun for anyone who enjoys music.  But there’s much more.  George began leading a band when he was 14 (which would be 1935) but made a name for himself nationwide on an NBC radio program, PLANTATION PARTY, where he was a featured from 1938 to 1942. The fourteen additional airshots on this generous package come from the PARTY, and they are stunning.  Each performance is a brief electrifying (and I am not punning) vignette, and sometimes we  get the added pleasure of hearing announcer Whitley Ford introduce the song or describe George’s electric Gibson as a “right modern contraption,” which it was.

I can’t say that it’s “about time” for people to acknowledge George as a brilliant guitarist and musician, a stunning pioneer of the instrument — because the jazz and popular music histories should have been shaken and rewritten decades ago. But I’d bet anything that Charlie Christian and a thousand other players heard PLANTATION PARTY, and that a many musicians heard George, were stunned, and wanted to play like that.

I’m writing this post a few days before July 4, celebrated in the United States with fireworks.  George Barnes sounds just like those fireworks: rockets, stars, cascades, and explosions.  I don’t know that fireworks can be said to swing, but with George that is never in doubt.

To buy the CD, visit here — and at the George Barnes Legacy site, you can learn much more about George, his music, his family, his career.  Worth a long visit.

May your happiness increase!

RUBY BRAFF and MARIAN McPARTLAND PLAY, TALK, and LAUGH (1991)

RUBY portrait

Thanks to National Public Radio, here is a rebroadcast of Marian McPartland’s PIANO JAZZ featuring the one, the only Ruby Braff, in a mellow mood, here.

MARIAN McPARTLAND

There’s delicious music — both players in exquisite form — THOU SWELL, THESE FOOLISH THINGS, THIS YEAR’S KISSES (with Ruby at the piano), THIS IS ALL I ASK, BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL (a piano duet), SINGIN’ THE BLUES (Marian, solo), BY MYSELF, AS TIME GOES BY, LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, and an extra bit of holiday laginappe, WHITE CHRISTMAS, as well as commentary on Vic Dickenson and Buster Bailey, the “Laws of Comping,” Mel Powell, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, the Boston jazz scene in the Fifties, George Barnes, Frank Tate, Dave McKenna, a CD that never emerged, the Braff-Hyman GIRL CRAZY, Tony Bennett, the value of caring and having standards, Benny Goodman, Herschel Evans, picking songs and making records, Maurice Chevalier, Bix Beiderbecke, and more.

The authority on all things Braff, Tom Hustad, thinks that the program was recorded in fall 1991 — as he notes in his invaluable book, BORN TO PLAY: THE RUBY BRAFF DISCOGRAPHY AND DIRECTORY OF PERFORMANCES.  Hear the music; buy the book; remember Ruby and Marian and the music they made always.

May your happiness increase!

FOUR BY FOUR IN 4 / 4: “The Unaccounted Four,” Scheveningen, July 2015

I’ve written about the wondrous quartet, whimsically called THE UNACCOUNTED FOUR, as often as I could: here, herehereherehere. They make music that is both cerebral and welcoming.

The unusual proliferation of hyperlinks should indicate my enthusiasm, but a few words might help for those who would rather read than click.

Amsterdam, 11 januari 2015 – Gala van de verkiezing van de Amsterdammer van het Jaar in de Stadsschouwburg. Menno Daams’ Unaccounted Four brengt een muzikale ode aan de genomineerden. Foto: Mats van Soolingen

Menno Daams’ Unaccounted Four, Amsterdam.  Photograph by Mats van Soolingen.

The Unaccounted Four is a quartet of trumpet, clarinet / tenor, guitar, bass. Historically-minded readers will think of the Django-Rex Stewart session, the Bechet-Spanier Big Four, the Ruby Braff-George Barnes Quartet, and in our century, the EarRegulars.  And all of those connections would be valid, although the U 4 leans more to the pensive than the combative, with echoes of the Alec Wilder Octet.

The U 4 is swinging, melodic, deeply thoughtful and playful all at once.  And they have understood something about time as well — and I don’t mean simply a swinging flexible 4 / 4.  If modern physics — and modern art — have helped us understand that time is more a field than a series of beads on a string, the U 4 enacts that easy flexibility in the most charming ways.  In their playing, hot jazz and The Birth of the Cool sit at the same table; Charlie Parker and Charlie Holmes go to the same reed repairman, and Miles smiles warmly at Louis.

Did I say that they have a wonderful CD, called PLAYGROUND?  They do. One could hear some of it here.  And here.

PLAYGROUND

For visual as well as auditory proof of this band’s happy approach to music and to our hearts, here are four videos from a July 2015 performance.

Nothing UNDECIDED here — sparkling chamber jazz that makes this familiar song sound exactly like new:

Then, Ravel’s SLEEPING BEAUTY:

James P. Johnson’s SNOWY MORNING BLUES:

And Bix’s IN THE DARK:

Endearing lyricism is what I call it.

Now, I can’t make it out of the country for next Wednesday, but the U 4 will be playing a gig then.  More room for you!  Details here and here.

May your happiness increase!

WARM TRANSLUCENCE: ANDY BROWN, SOLO JAZZ GUITAR

Andy Brown Soloist

Andy Brown knows and embodies the simple truth.  It’s not how many notes you can play: it’s how you convey feeling with those notes.

For some time, the guitar has been the most popular instrument on the planet. Many guitarists aspire to blazing technique that causes the fretboard to burst into flames.  If you like to blame people, you can blame Hendrix, Bird, or even Django, masters who suggested to the unwary that the way to be even better was to be faster, more densely aggressive.

I come from a different school, having heard Charlie Christian, Teddy Bunn, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, Mary Osborne, George Barnes, George Van Eps and others early in my development. I cherish deep simplicities, not fireworks. That is why I have delighted in the playing of Andy Brown and am especially entranced by his most recent CD, plainly named SOLOIST (Delmark Records).

Andy Brown makes music, first and always.  His music woos the ear and the brain but lodges deep in the heart.  You shouldn’t get the wrong idea about him from my somewhat reactionary description: he is no primitive, rejecting technique because he has none.  On the contrary, he can play quickly, elaborately, and dramatically when the music calls for it.  The most mature players know that the greatest displays of technique involve restraint, subtlety, and breathing space.  Andy understands this, and what you hear is a relaxed lyricism where every note counts.  He is a melodic improviser, someone in love with beautiful warm sounds, not trying to impress listeners with outlandish dramatic spectacle.

Andy sounds like himself, but if I were pressed to say what ancestral heroes his playing suggests, they wouldn’t be guitarists.  Rather, I think this CD would have made Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, and Count Basie grin, for its understated singing grace, its beaming pleasure in music-making.

Time for a sample? Make yourself comfortable and savor these varied performances — beginning with luminous solos, then moving to collaborations with Howard Alden, Petra van Nuis, Jeannie Lambert, the cats at the Chautauqua Jazz Party, and even Barbra Streisand.  (Don’t be disconcerted that on the Streisand video — taken from a television appearance — the words “INSIDE DEATH ROW” appear bottom right.  No hidden messages here.)

Here you can hear brief audio samples from the CD.

Andy’s idols are many — he explains all that in his delightfully understated liner notes — but this isn’t a homage to any one guitarist.  It isn’t a disc where the artist reproduces and then elaborates on an influential album or set of recordings.

SOLOIST is a love letter to beautiful songs played with affection and swing, and it is easy to listen to without being Easy Listening.  It would impress any harmonically-astute guitar whiz but it could also embrace someone who knew nothing about substitute chords.  And although most of the songs are “standards,” they are played as if they were just written. Their melodies shine through; they swing.

And — unlike many solo guitar recordings I’ve heard — the sound is plain, unaltered, but gorgeously warm.  I see that the engineer is Scott Steinman — we are no relation — and he has done a lovely job.  And all I can say is that when I began listening to this disc, I delighted in it from first to last and then it seemed the most natural thing to start it up again.  You will feel similarly.

SOLOIST is a lovely recording, and an accurate record of the music of someone I admire, having heard him in person.

Andy writes in his notes that he simply began to play in the recording studio as he would on a gig. That should give any motivated person in the Chicago area a good idea: see Mr. Brown live and buy several copies of the CD from him.

May your happiness increase!

HAPPY BUCKY, BIRTHDAY! (with ED METZ, ALLAN VACHE, JOHN COCUZZI, PAUL KELLER at the ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY, April 26, 2014)

Bucky Pizzarelli was born on January 9, 1926.  Ordinarily I don’t devote JAZZ LIVES to birthday celebrations — but it seems right to celebrate Bucky at 89.

I have experienced the several sides of Mr. Pizzarelli: the man who likes to play tender unaccompanied ballads; the great duet player who summons up a whole guitar tradition from its Italian roots to Dick McDonough, Charlie Christian, and his once-partner George Barnes; the swinging rhythm wizard . . . and the showman who is not happy until the audience is standing and hollering.  It is this last Bucky (a beloved and infallible rabble-rouser) that I celebrate here, with a version of SING SING SING recorded at the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party, with the help of Ed Metz, drums; Paul Keller, string bass; Allan Vache, clarinet; John Cocuzzi, vibraphone:

Bucky played often with Benny Goodman, so he knows the routine.  I might also mention Gene Krupa (celebrated by Mr. Metz) and the much-missed Jess Stacy and Harry James.  But Bucky directs traffic — and we are all glad. Thank you for being so entertaining and so durable.  Bucky won’t see this blog . . . but he knows he’s well and truly loved.

May your happiness increase! 

PERFECTLY CRAFTED: “PLAYGROUND” by the UNACCOUNTED FOUR

I am delighted to share with you the debut CD of an inspired quartet — the Unaccounted Four — a disc called (appropriately) PLAYGROUND, where the arranged passages are as brilliant as the improvisations, and the two kinds of expression dance beautifully through the disc.

playground_front

Menno plays cornet, wrote the arrangements, and composed three originals; David plays clarinet and tenor saxophone; Martien plays guitar; Joep is on string bass; Harrie ven de Woort plays the pianola on the closing track, a brief EXACTLY LIKE YOU.  The disc was recorded at the PIanola Museum in Amsterdam on four days in May 2014 — recorded superbly by bassist Joep.

The repertoire is a well-stirred offering of “classic” traditional jazz repertoire: STUMBLING, CHARLESTON, LIMEHOUSE BLUES, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, JUBILEE, EXACTLY LIKE YOU; beautiful pop songs: AUTUMN IN NEW YORK, JEANNINE (I DREAM OF LILAC TIME), ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM, LULLABY OF THE LEAVES; originals: WHAT THE FUGUE, UNGUJA, PLAYGROUND; unusual works by famous composers: Ellington’s REFLECTIONS IN D; Bechet’s LE VIEUX BATEAU; and Ravel’s SLEEPING BEAUTY.  Obviously this is a quartet with an imaginative reach.

A musical sample — the Four performing JUBILEE and LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

Here is Menno’s own note to the CD:

A few years ago, I wanted to have my own jazz quartet to play what is known as “classic jazz.” Besides being nice to listen to, I intended the quartet to be versatile, convenient and different. That is why I bypassed the usual format of horn + piano trio. Our instrumentation of two horns, guitar and bass allows for varied tone colors. The venues where we play don’t need to rent a piano, and we don’t have to help the drummer carry his equipment from the car. As for versatility, David Lukacs, Merien Oster and Joep Lumeij are excellent readers and improvisers. They are also great company to hang out with (convenience again).

Our repertoire dates from the 1920s and 30s. The earliest piece is the adaptation of Ravel’s Pavane de la belle au bois dormant (1912); the latest is Ellington’s Reflections in D (1953), not counting my own tunes. While writing the charts, I chose to frame the familiar (and not-so-familiar) tunes in a new setting, rather than following the original recordings. So, for better or worse, the Unaccounted Four sounds like no other band. I promise you will still recognize the melodies, though!

The recording was made at the Pianola Museum in Amsterdam by Joep Lumeij with only two microphones. Minimal editing and postprocessing was done (or indeed possible).

On the last track, Harrie van de Voort operated a pianola which belted out Exactly Like You while we joined in. It is the only completely improvised performance on this disc. Autumn in New York is at the other end of the spectrum with every note written out.

I hope you will enjoy the Unaccounted Four’s particular brand of chamber jazz.

Menno’s statement that the Unaccounted Four “sounds like no other band” is quite true.  If I heard them on the radio or on a Blindfold Test, I might not immediately recognize the players, but I wouldn’t mistake the band for anyone else. I think my response would be, “My goodness, that’s marvelous.  What or whom IS that?”

Some listeners may wonder, “If it doesn’t sound like any other band, will I like it?”  Fear not.  One could put the Four in the same league as the Braff-Barnes quartet at their most introspective, or the Brookmeyer-Jim Hall TRADITIONALISM REVISITED.  I think of the recordings Frankie Newton made with Mary Lou Williams, or I envision a more contemplative version of the 1938 Kansas City Six or the Kansas City Four.

But here the CD’s title, PLAYGROUND, is particularly apt. Imagine the entire history of melodic, swinging jazz as a large grassy field.  Over there, Bobby Hackett and Shorty Baker are talking about mouthpieces; in another corner, Lester Young, Gil Evans, and Miles Davis are lying on their backs staring at the sky.  Billy Strayhorn and Claude Thornhill are admiring blades of grass; Frank Trumbauer is introducing Bix Beiderbecke and Eddie Lang to Lennie Tristano and Oscar Pettiford; Tony Fruscella and Brew Moore are laughing at something witty Count Basie has said. Someone is humming ROYAL GARDEN BLUES at a medium tempo; another is whistling a solo from the Birth of the Cool sides.

You can continue this game at your leisure (it is good for insomniacs and people on long auto trips) but its whimsical nature explains PLAYGROUND’s particular sweet thoughtful appeal.

It is music to be savored: translucent yet dense tone-paintings, each three or four-minute musical interlude complete in itself, subtle, multi-layered, full of shadings and shifts.  The playing throughout is precise without being mannered, exuberant when needed but never loud — and happily quiet at other times. Impressionism rather than pugilism, although the result is warmly emotional.

Some CDs I immediately embrace, absorb, and apparently digest: I know their depths in a few hearings.  With PLAYGROUND, I’ve listened to it more than a half-dozen times, and each time I hear new aspects; it has the quiet resonance of a book of short stories, which one can keep rereading without ever being bored.

For me, it offers some of the most satisfying listening experiences I have had of late.

The CD can be downloaded or purchased from CDBaby, downloaded from iTunes or Amazon; or one can visit Menno’s own site here, listen to sound samples, and purchase the music from him.

Enjoy the PLAYGROUND.  You have spacious time to explore it.

May your happiness increase!

GEORGE BARNES, AT HOME WITH FRIENDS: MASTER IMPROVISER, 1941

Ask any jazz scholar to name another early innovator in jazz electric guitar in addition to Charlie Christian.  A few scholarly types will remember Eddie Durham, Leonard Ware, Floyd Smith, Les Paul. Someone will think of Allan Reuss’s PICKIN’ FOR PATSY.

But few will think of George Barnes.

That’s a pity, because Barnes was exploring the instrument’s possibilities in the late Thirties.

BARNES 1941

Proof of just how inventive he was — at 19! — has recently been offered by the George Barnes Legacy Foundation: a series of delightful home recordings of Barnes and friends in mid-1941.

On these tracks, Barnes improvises masterfully not only on electric guitar but also piano, and he’s aided by Bill Huntington and Bill Iverson, rhythm guitar; Ralph Hancock, cello; Jerry Marlowe, piano; Bill Moore, string bass; Benny Gill, violin; Adrienne Barnes, vocal.

Here’s the story behind the music (from the notes):

In the spring of 1941, 19-year-old guitarist George Barnes had already been a national radio star for almost two years, and enjoyed jamming with his colleagues after they’d wrapped their respective NBC shows. In March, June, and September of 1941, George’s friends — including violinist Benny Gill, rhythm guitarist Bill Huntington, and bassist Bill Moore — dropped by his Chicago apartment in The Chelsea Hotel and played into the wee hours. These 15 tracks were recorded directly to acetate discs by recordist Joe Campbell, who had been a Barnes fan since the first time he heard 17-year-old George play at Gus Williams’ Nameless Cafe on Chicago’s West Side.

The fifteen selections are BARNES’ BLUES / BARNES’ BOOGIE WOOGIE / BODY AND SOUL / JA-DA / MEMORIES OF YOU / NIGHTFALL (four versions) / SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET / SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY (two versions) / SOMETHING TO REMEMBER YOU BY / SWEET LORRAINE / TEXAS BLUES.

And for those who shy away from “old private recordings,” these sound good for their age.  The originals have been well-mastered, and they were originally 12″ acetates, which afforded longer playing time. Barnes’ colleagues, although their names are not well-known today, are rewarding players who hold our attention throughout. Violinist Gill plays beautifully on BODY AND SOUL, MEMORIES OF YOU, SUNNY SIDE, SOMETHING TO REMEMBER YOU BY — in an Eddie South mood; Adrienne Barnes (George’s first wife) reminds me beautifully of Ella Logan and Maxine Sullivan, and the supporting players are first-rate.

In addition, the collection offers two rare October 1941 electric guitar duets by Barnes and Ernie Varner, G MINOR SPIN and SWOON OF A GOON, as well as a brief audio reminiscence by recordist Campbell.

A video and audio taste:

And here, a little reiteration is necessary.  Barnes was 19.

What does it all sound like?  Since George’s first instrument was the piano, it’s fitting that the set begins with a violent but precise boogie-woogie that sounds as if Albert Ammons had been studying the Romantic tradition (Rachmaninoff, not love ballads); the guitar blues that follows is delightful, a subtle mixture of harmonically deep chordal playing and sharp single-line inventions, a JA-DA that alternates between musing interludes and straight-ahead swing. MEMORIES OF YOU has touches of Louis and of what we would come to call “American roots music,” and is the work of a compelling melodist, someone with his own sound on guitar, someone more than able to make electricity work for him.

When he is backing Adrienne Barnes on NIGHTFALL (the first version), his accompaniment is a beautiful orchestral tapestry, moving the melody along while creating a rich hamonic background. The three versions that follow — solo, duo, and trio — are also lessons in what can be done, so evocatively, with lyrical material.

The solo piano SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY is also a pleasure, combining an endearing simplicity with harmonic experimentation (think of, say, Nat Jaffe two and three years later) and an audible sense of humor: had Barnes chosen piano as his instrument, he would be known in jazz histories.  SOMETHING TO REMEMBER YOU BY, which begins with extravagantly rhapsodic piano, shifts into fourth gear when Barnes begins his guitar solo. SWEET LORRAINE has a melody statement worthy of Eldridge in its contained force; the closing TEXAS BLUES is rocking from the start, merging Western swing and the hot jazz of the time.

The Barnes-Varner duets that close the set are intricate, twining duets — compositionally rich, the sort of playing Barnes and Carl Kress, Barnes and Bucky Pizzarelli did later on.

It might be hard for some to hear how radical Barnes was in 1941, but that’s tribute to his mastery, for all of his style has been subliminally integrated into the mainstream of jazz guitar playing: the pistol-shot single notes, the audacious harmonies, the singular way of constructing a solo — in these solo guitar performances, he has the mastery of Django or Lang, weaving even the most simple material (JA-DA) into a concerto with shifts of mood and tempo.

This set — which I hope is the first of many — has been produced by George’s daughter, Alexandra Barnes Leh, who hopes to make more people aware of her father’s swinging, innovative playing.  For more information on how to order this set — available only as a digital download — click here.  There, you can learn more about what the Legacy Project — how you can purchase instructional materials (audio and print) created by Barnes for beginners and for advanced students — and more.

May your happiness increase!

KEY NOTES

I bought myself a truly gratifying holiday present:

KEYNOTE BOX

For details from the Fresh Sound website, click here.

It’s possible that some readers might be unfamiliar with the Keynote Records catalogue, so if the tiny portraits above don’t pique your interest, here are a few words.  Between 1941 and 1947, with the bulk of its sessions taking place in 1944-6. this independent jazz label produced a wide sampling of the best jazz records ever made — from the New Orleans jazz of George Hartman to the “modern sounds” of Lennie Tristano and Red Rodney.  Keynote was the expression of one man’s intelligent taste — the Javanese jazz fan and producer Harry Lim (1919-1990).  Lim’s records neatly balance written arrangements, head arrangements, and improvised solos.  Many of the Keynote issues were recorded for issue on 12″ 78s, thus giving musicians room to create in more leisurely ways.  In fairness, the Keynote sessions were not the only ones taking place in the wartime years: Lim’s issues ran parallel with Commodore, Blue Note, Hot Record Society, Signature, and even smaller labels — Asch, Jamboree and Wax among them.  Keynote featured jazz players who were already stars: Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Red Norvo, Benny Carter, Sidney Catlett, Teddy Wilson, Johnny Hodges, Slam Stewart, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Count Basie (pseudonymously), as well as improvisers of equal worth who were often not given their due: trumpeter Joe Thomas, Milt Hinton, Bill Harris, Willie Smith, Kenny Kersey, Jonah Jones, George Barnes, Johnny Guarneri, Emmett Berry, Aaron Sachs, Herman Chittison, George Wettling, Hilton Jefferson, Tyree Glenn, Gene Sedric, Juan Tizol, Rex Stewart, Pete Brown, Cozy Cole, Charlie Shavers, Nick Fatool, Bujie Centobie, Irving Fazola, Allan Reuss, Dave Tough, and many others.  Three particularly remarkable sessions brought together like-minded but singular horn players: trumpeters Eldridge, Thomas, and Berry; saxophonists Hawkins, Don Byas, Tab Smith, Harry Carney; trombonists Vic Dickenson, Harris, Claude Jones, and Benny Morton.

Several things need to be said about the new Fresh Sounds reissue.  For one, it is a “European bootleg,” which will repel some collectors of this music, and I think rightly so.  However, the Keynotes have never been issued in any systematic way on compact disc — in their home country or otherwise.  And the Fresh Sound set concentrates, with a few exceptions, on issued material.  I don’t know whether this was a choice designed to entice listeners who find alternate takes annoying, or to keep the set’s price attractive.  (I bought mine on Amazon for $94, which seems a good value for 243 sides.)  The sound is good, although I haven’t compared it to any 78 or vinyl issues.  True Keynote devotees will, of course, have their own copies of the comprehensive vinyl issue of the label’s offerings, and the Fresh Sound box won’t replace that.

The reissue history of the Keynote recordings is characteristically odd — leaving aside the comprehensive vinyl set — with early vinyl assortments assembled by instrument (trumpet, trombone, or saxophone), then later ones featuring stars Hawkins, Young, Woody Herman sidemen, Norvo, Tristano, etc.  As I write this, I am taking great pleasure in the sixth disc — selected at random — hearing sessions led by Barney Bigard, Horace Henderson, Bill Harris, Willie Smith, Corky Corcoran, and Milt Hinton — a fascinating cross-section of timeless jazz recorded in 1945.  “Fresh Sound” is an apt description for these sides recorded more than half a century ago.

Fresh Sound producer Jordi Pujol made an intriguing and ultimately rewarding choice when looking for documentary material to fill the 125-page booklet.  He included a careful history of the label — sources unknown — which tells a great deal about how these sessions came to be.  (I feel, once again, that we should all give thanks to selfless men such as Harry Lim.)  Then, rather than reprint the enthusiastic, empathic notes written by Dan Morgenstern for the Keynote vinyl box set, Pujol returned to the archives of DOWN BEAT and METRONOME for contemporary reviews and session photographs.  The photographs — although many of them have been reproduced elsewhere — offer a few treasures: Lester Young, Johnny Guarnieri, Slam Stewart, and Sidney Catlett at their December 1943 session, and photographs from the jam sessions Lim created before Keynote began recording regularly: one, in particular, caught me: a 1940 Chicago session featuring Rex Stewart, Lawrence Brown, Earl Hines, John Simmons, Tubby Hall . . . and the elusive Boyce Brown.  The reviews from the contemporary jazz magazines are both grating and revealing.  One might forget just how hard those writers and editors worked to appear breezy, slangy, hip — Catlett is referred to as a “colored tubman” in one review — and how severe they were in assessing what now seem masterpieces, using “uneventful,” “nothing distinctive,” “routine,” “pleasant,” “don’t emerge as anything too special.”  Lester Young is referred to as “Les,” his tenor sound as “muddy-toned.”  That the music survived this critical approach from writers who were its advocates says much about its durability.  Here, by the way, is a side DOWN BEAT termed a “fiasco” and gave it a grade of C.  I rest my case:

I think I got more than my money’s worth.  You might agree.

May your happiness increase! 

OSCAR PETTIFORD, FOUND

OP front

Bassist, cellist, and composer Oscar Pettiford is in the odd position of being both legendary and forgotten (as Whitney Balliett wrote of Pee Wee Russell). If you ask any aficionado of jazz string bass playing to name a dozen favorites — living and dead — it’s likely that the names will come easily.  But Pettiford’s is often not among them.

Yes, he died young, but not before performing and recording every famous musician (with some notable exceptions) in a short career.  An incomplete list would include Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Tatum, Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Charlie Christian, Gil Evans, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Woody Herman, Coleman Hawkins, Ray Charles, Stan Getz, Lucky Thompson, Charles Mingus, Zoot Sims, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Julius Watkins, Ben Webster, Sammy Price, Ruby Braff, Mel Powell, Ellis Larkins, Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Billie Holiday, Red Norvo, Clifford Brown, Buddy De Franco, Phineas Newborn, Kai Winding, Roy Eldridge, Ray Brown, Lionel Hampton, Don  Byas, Clyde Hart, Earl Hines, Budd Johnson, Joe Thomas, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Giuffre, Martial Solal, Attlia Zoller, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Billy Eckstine, Cozy Cole, Shadow Wilson, Charlie Shavers, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Cootie Williams, Ed Hall, Lawrence Brown, Sonny Greer, Maxine Sullivan, Dick Hyman, Eddie Bert, Joe Derise, Ike Quebec, Jonah Jones, Buck Clayton, Helen Humes, Benny Harris, Boyd Raeburn, Serge Chaloff, Howard McGhee, Sir Charles Thompson, Wynonie Harris, Vic Dickenson, Red Rodney, Tal Farlow, Denzil Best, Jo Jones, Leo Parker, Al Haig, Al Hibbler, Nat Pierce, Bill Harris, Howard McGhee, J.J. Johnson, Art Taylor, Wynton Kelly, Lockjaw Davis, Jackie McLean, Kenny Clarke, Dave McKenna, Milt Jackson, John Lewis, Chris Connor, Hank Jones, Earl Coleman, Thad Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Donald Byrd, Billy Taylor, Chuck Wayne, Roy Haynes, Art Farmer, Gigi Gryce, Al Cohn, Frank Wess, Jimmy Cleveland, Barry Galbraith, Joe Morello, Joe Wilder, Harry Lookofsky, Jimmy Jones, Urbie Green, Ernie Royal, Herbie Mann, George Barnes, Clark Terry, Dave Schildkraut, Helen Merrill, Jimmy Raney, Horace Silver, Doug Mettome, Quincy Jones, Duke Jordan, Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham, Cecil Payne, Toots Thielmans, Red Garland.

This suggests that Oscar’s peers respected him and called him for gigs and recordings.  It’s not as if he was obscure: his career was longer than, say, Blanton’s or Steve Brown’s.  But, oddly for jazz, which loves to mythologize the musicians who die young and abruptly (and Pettiford died as the result of a 1960 automobile accident) he hasn’t received the benefit of the weird reverence fans and writers have for the young dead.

Of course, it could be that bass players don’t get the respect they and their instruments deserve, but it is and was hard to ignore Pettiford on a session. He offered a rhythmic foundation that was powerful rather than obtrusive, but when he soloed, his lines have the solid eloquence that any horn player would aspire to — while seeming light rather than ponderous.  And as the list of players above suggests, his musical range was exceedingly broad: he wasn’t captured on record in free jazz or ragtime, but he elevated every other variety of jazz and jazz vocal performance he was part of.  Had he lived longer, he might have enjoyed the visibility of a Milt Hinton or a Ray Brown, but we have only brief moments of him on film (the 1945 THE CRIMSON CANARY) and a few seconds of his speaking voice.

Surely he should be better known.

Enough words and keystrokes for the moment: listen to his 1960 feature on WILLOW WEEP FOR ME:

and here he is, playing his own BLUES IN THE CLOSET — from a little-known 1953 television broadcast — on cello (which he took to for a time after breaking an arm in a baseball game):

And his stirring solo on STARDUST:

Now, two pieces of good news that might go some distance in making Oscar’s name and music known to a larger audience.  One is that there is a YouTube channel, PettifordJazz, with sixty videos of Pettiford solos, ensembles, and compositions.  That means that no one has to start collecting Oscar’s music — it is being made available to all for free.

Oscar (or “O.P.”, as his colleagues called him) also spent the last two years of his life in Europe (mostly in Scandinavia and Germany), and recorded often there.  Sessions with guitarist Attila Zoller have been issued and reissued on a variety of labels (in the vinyl era, they appeared on Black Lion) and a famous 1960 concert in Essen with Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, and Coleman Hawkins was available forty years ago.  Recordings made in 1958-59 for the German radio network have now been issued for the first time on compact disc, in beautiful sound, as OSCAR PETTIFORD: LOST TAPES — GERMANY 1958 / 1959, on SWR Music.

American expatriates Lucky Thompson (on soprano sax for a gorgeous, melancholy SOPHISTICATED LADY) and Kenny Clarke (drums on the final five performances of the disc) are the “stars,” but Zoller stands out as a beautifully measured guitarist.

OP cover rear

And although some US critics of the time might have been condescending to European players, this disc shows their equal mastery. Trumpeter Dusko Goykovich duets with Oscar on the opening BUT NOT FOR ME.  Other notable players here are clarinetist Rolf Kuhn; light-toned tenorist Hans Koller; baritone saxophonists Helmut Brandt, Helmut Reinhardt, Johnny Feigl; altoist Rudi Feigl; guitarist Hans Hammerschmid; drummers Jimmy Pratt and Hartwig Bartz.  The songs are a mix of standards and originals: BUT NOT FOR ME / SOPHISTICATED LADY / A SMOOTH ONE / O.P. (Hans Koller) / MINOR PLUS A MAJOR (Kuhn) / POOR BUTTERFLY / ANUSIA (Hans Koller) / MY LITTLE CELLO (Pettiford) / THE NEARNESS OF YOU / YESTERDAYS / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / BLUES IN THE CLOSET (Pettiford) / BIG HASSLE (Hammerschmidt) / ATLANTIC (Helmut Brandt) / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / BLUES IN THE CLOSET — the last two are live performances.

And just because it’s accessible and stirring, here is that film clip — from an otherwise undistinguished 1945 murder mystery, THE CRIMSON CANARY, which features Hawk, Pettiford, Howard McGhee, trumpet; Sir Charles Thompson, piano; Denzil Best, on a fast SWEET GEORGIA BROWN line by Hawkins called HOLLYWOOD STAMPEDE:

Ultimately, I think if you’d asked Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington, or any number of jazz luminaries, “What about this O.P. fellow?  Should I listen to him?” the answer would have been a very strong affirmative.  So let us do just that. These tapes were lost, but have been found: spread the word about Oscar.  Remind those who have forgotten; introduce those who never knew.  “Learn it to the younguns!” as the youthful protagonist of Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN hears at the start of that novel.

May your happiness increase!

SOMETHING TENDER: GEORGE and EVELYN BARNES by ALEXANDRA LEH

Like many jazz fans, I first heard the guitarist George Barnes on record. He had a swaggering attack and a powerfully recognizable sound, whether he was cutting through a big band record date or shaking up the group behind Louis Armstrong in 1956-7. In the early Seventies, I was able to see and hear him in person with Ruby Braff, George Duvivier, Dick Hyman, Jo Jones, Michael Moore, Wayne Wright — often in the brilliant Braff-Barnes Quartet.

Because Barnes had a way of attacking his notes that sounded like small swing firecrackers, I was utterly unprepared for the tender beauty of this performance. It is even more tender when you learn that it was something he played on the final day of his life. His daughter Alexandra has created this video tribute to her father, his music, and his beloved wife Evelyn — appropriately the music is ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE:

What beauty and what a tribute!

May your happiness increase!

CAREFUL, THAT’S VERY HOT! (Part One): BLACK DIAMOND BLUE FIVE at CLINE CELLARS (June 13, 2013): CLINT BAKER, LEON OAKLEY, ROBERT YOUNG, BILL REINHART, MARTY EGGERS

I’ll say it again:

The 2013 Cline Wine and Dixieland Festival was a glorious success: a lovely setting, jubilant music both hot and sweet, with sweet-natured people enjoying themselves everywhere. I will be offering videos from that delicious day — featuring Clint Baker, Leon Oakley, Bill Reinhart, Marty Eggers, Scott Anthony, Bob Schulz, Ray Skjelbred, Robert Young, the Ragtime Skedaddlers, and other noble souls.

I unpacked my camera and settled down for the first band — noting the increased heat in the room.  No surprise, when you consider who was on the stand: Leon Oakley, cornet; Robert Young, saxophone / vocal; Marty Eggers, piano; Clint Baker, banjo / vocal; Bill Reinhart, tuba: the Black Diamond Blue Five.  The original BDBF began in 1992 as the inspiration of banjoist George Knoblauch (he left us in March 2012) as a hot two-horn quintet that played the music of Clarence Williams and other small Twenties bands.  (You’ll notice, in the videos below, that Clarence’s picture is on the binder that is the band’s book.) The 1992-2012 band featured the same personnel except that George played banjo and Clint played tuba.

Now, I can find something to admire in improvising ensembles of all sizes.  The twenty men gathered on stage at the end of an Eddie Condon Blue Network broadcast, a solo pianist or guitarist — equally promising. But I might be guilty of jazz frugality: I especially admire those small ensembles that give good value for their money: three players (Bent Persson – Frans Sjostrom – Jacob Ullberger) or four (Ruby Braff – George Barnes – Wayne Wright – Michael Moore) seem taut, slim, energized versions of the ideal.

So does the BDBF.  Evidence below!

Clint tells us, politely but emphatically, about his reluctance to share his JELLY ROLL with anyone.  Understandable, no?:

Robert’s singing of SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE makes me imagine an alternate universe where Carmen Lombardo, Lillie Delk Christian, and Louis get together to share stories of being excluded from romance.  And Leon’s cornet is right on the money — searing, in fact:

This version of MY GAL SAL reminds me of the Deccas by the Alabama Jug Band — 1934, and it is just as much fun:

WIPE IT OFF, even when the lyrics are somewhat obscure, not to say arcane, is always good advice:

What a wonderful hot band!  I will have more to share from the BDBF, I promise you.

May your happiness increase!

HANDS-FREE IN JAZZLAND (Jan. 27, 2013)

Yesterday, Sunday, January 27, was my first venture back into live jazz — since I lost my video equipment (a saga chronicled elsewhere on this blog) — and I was mildly worried.  About me, I mean.

How would it be to come back to my this very familiar situation without a camera in my hands?  (Someone at the first gig who knows me well asked me how I was feeling, and I said — without thinking — “denuded,” a telling choice of words.)

But I managed to keep my composure and enjoy myself, not thinking too much that the music was vanishing into the ether without passing through me, JAZZ LIVES, and cyberspace to you.

The first session — held at the  Music Conservatory of Westchester — was very sweet and to the point, a celebration by trumpeter Bob Arthurs and guitarist Steve LaMattina of their new CD, JAZZ FOR SVETLANA (also chronicled on this blog).

Bob and Steve kept up a glorious yet understated musical conversation, switching roles — when Steve soloed, Bob gave him plenty of space for a few choruses, and then would begin to play encouraging backgrounds and riffs, his hand half over the bell of his trumpet.  At times I thought I was listening to some version of the Basie band distilled down to its essences.  They began with a medium-tempo BLUES FOR LONNIE, a trotting I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU (on which Bob sang in his husky unaffected way), I REMEMBER YOU (fast), and HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN (introspective).  Then Svetlana Gorokhovich and Irena Portenko took the stage — at two pianos! — to perform a tribute to the late Dave Brubeck, POINTS ON JAZZ, which began in plain-spoken elegiac simplicity and escalated in intensity before settling back down again.  Bob and Steve returned for NIGHT IN TUNISIA, a “nostalgic,” slow reading of BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA, with Bob’s vocal, and what was for me the highlight of the session — a beautiful one-chorus reading of Jackie Gleason’s MELANCHOLY SERENADE.  Quite a lot of music packed into a small space!

The second gig was a return to old beloved haunts — The Ear Inn — to hear Jon-Erik Kellso, John Allred, Howard Alden, and Pat O’Leary — this week’s version of The EarRegulars — swing out.  They began with a fast SUNDAY, then moved forwards in time for an even more vigorous FROM MONDAY ON, and secretly kept the theme going with a much more leisurely THE MAN I LOVE, which refers to Tuesday in the lyrics, a deep inside joke.  Two classics of the ER repertoire concluded the set — WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM and a key-changing HINDUSTAN.  The four EarRegulars are great conversationalists — chatty fellows, you know — so the two horns kept exchanging comments (“passing notes,” if you will) on each other’s playing — with Allred providing the punchline or topper to a Kellso musical witticism.  Alden and O’Leary kept up a sweet flow of rhythm that reminded me so much of the Braff-Barnes Quartet of 1974 with noble forbears Michael Moore and Wayne Wright floating the planet.

It helped me a good deal that I was among friends — Will and Pete Anderson, Emily Asher, Dan Block, Mike Gilroy, Michael Waterhouse, the talented J.P., and others . . . and many of them sweetly tendered heartfelt camera-condolences, which mean a lot.  My pal Nan said, “You know, you’re much more fun without a video camera,” which I took as a compliment — I was at play more than at work, and it was a pleasure to be able to applaud freely — but I pointed out that I felt somewhat rudderless without the ability to make sure these good sounds were captured for posterity.

All of this once again posed the philosophical question, “If a band is swinging like mad or playing melodies sweetly and Michael is not recording it with a videocamera, does the music still enthrall and elate?”  You know the answer to that one.

May your happiness increase.

BORN TO PLAY: THE RUBY BRAFF DISCOGRAPHY and DIRECTORY OF PERFORMANCES

THIS JUST IN (Sept. 8, 2012): BORN TO PLAY is available at a special discount price.  I feel honored — this is the first official JAZZ LIVES promotional code!

JAZZ LIVES SPECIAL PRICE: Available directly from the publisher with 25% discount ($71.25 + $5.00 shipping): https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780810882645 and enter special Jazz Lives promotion code in shopping cart: 7M12BTPRB

I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time, and it’s even better than I anticipated.  It is the latest volume in the Scarecrow Press “Studies in Jazz” series, nearly 750 pages of information about the late cornetist.

Its author, Thomas P. Hustad, knew Ruby, spoke with him, and had Ruby’s full cooperation and enthusiastic advocacy.  Although the book isn’t a biography, nearly every page offers a deeper understanding of Ruby, musician and personality, and the contexts within which he operated.

Ruby would have been a challenging subject for a typical biography.  For one thing, although jazz musicians seem to lead unusual lives (nocturnal rather than diurnal hours, for one thing) they take their work with the utmost seriousness, and their daily responsibilities are not much different from ours.  A diary of what Ruby, for instance, accomplished when the horn was not up to his lips, might not be particularly revealing.  And Ruby’s strong, often volatile personality might have led a book astray into the darker realms of pathobiography: a chronological unfolding of the many times Ruby said exactly what was on his mind with devastating results would grow wearying quickly, and would leave even the most sympathetic reader with a sour impression.

No, Ruby wanted to be remembered for his music, and Tom honored that request.  So there is no psychoanalysis here, in an attempt to explore why Ruby could be so mercurial — generous and sweet-natured to some, vocal in defense of his friends, furious at injustice, fiercely angry without much apparent provocation otherwise.  True, the reader who peruses this book for tales of inexplicably bad behavior will find some, but BORN TO PLAY offers so much more.

Its purpose is to celebrate and document Ruby’s playing and recording over more than half a century.  What a body of recordings he left us!  From the earliest Boston broadcasts in 1949 to his final August 2002 appearance in Scotland with Scott Hamilton (happily available on an Arbors Records 2-CD set), Ruby played alongside the greatest names in jazz history.

Without looking at the book, I think of Pee Wee Russell, Vic Dickenson, Jo Jones, Nat Pierce, Dave McKenna, Freddie Green, Milt Hinton, Walter Page, Buck Clayton, Buddy Tate, Dick Hafer, Scott Hamilton, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Dick Hyman, Teddi King, Lee Wiley, Ellis Larkins, Mel Powell, Oscar Pettiford, George Wein, George Barnes, Michael Moore, Ralph Sutton, Kenny Davern, Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden, Howard Alden, Frank Tate, Jack Lesberg, John Bunch, Sir Charles Thompson, Trummy Young, Bob Wilber, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Dan Barrett, Tony Bennett, Coleman Hawkins, Lawrence Brown, Ernie Caceres, Bob Brookmeyer, Benny Morton, Roy Eldridge, Jimmy Rushing, Urbie Green.

BORN TO PLAY is more than a straightforward discographical listing of Ruby’s issued recordings (although even there I found surprises: Ruby’s sessions with the Weavers, a final unissued Vanguard session, work with Larry Adler, Lenny Solomon, and others).  From his earliest appearances, listeners noticed that Mr. Braff was something special.  Jazz critics made much of him as an “anachronism,” someone whose style came out of Louis Armstrong rather than Miles Davis, but such assessments missed the point.

Ruby was one of the great romantics and improvising dramatists: he could take the most familiar melody and find new lyricism in it, singing it out as if he had become Fred Astaire or Judy Garland or Chaplin in CITY LIGHTS rather than “a saloon entertainer with a bit of tin in his hand.”  Ruby’s playing touches some hidden impulses in us — our need to express emotions without holding back — but his wasn’t the “barbaric yawp,” but quiet intensity with many surprises on the way.

His admirers (among whom I count myself) paid tribute to their hero by recording his performances whenever possible — the chronicle of private recordings begins in 1949 and continues to the end.  Those private recordings are  more than tantalizing: Ruby’s encounters with Louis, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Buddy Rich, Danny Moss, Sidney Catlett, Benny Carter . . .as well as his day-to-day gigs with musicians both famous and little-known across the globe.

One of the surprises in this book is that Ruby worked so often: before he became known for his singular approach to melodic improvisation, he was a diligently gigging musician.  (In print, Ruby sometimes complained about his inability to find congenial work: these listings suggest that aside from some early stretches where it was difficult to get gigs, he was well-employed.)

BORN TO PLAY also contains rare and unseen photographs, and the text is interspersed with entertaining stories: Nat Pierce and the sardine cans, Benny Goodman and the staircase, and more.

What this book reminds us of is the masterful work of an artist performing at the highest level in many contexts for an amazing length of time . . . all the more remarkable when you recall that Ruby suffered from emphysema as early as 1980.  Without turning his saga into a formulaic one of the heroic artist suffering through disabling illnesses, Hustad subtly suggests that we should admire Ruby much more for his devotion to his art than stand back in horrified wonder at his temper tantrums.  And Tom is right.

Ruby emerges as a man in love with his art, someone so devoted to it that the title of the book becomes more and more apt as a reader continues.  I have only read it intermittently, but find it both entrancing and distracting.  Much of this is due to Tom Hustad: a tireless researcher (still finding new information after the book’s publication), a fine clear writer, and someone Ruby trusted . . . so the book floats along on a subtle friendship between subject and chronicler.  And Tom was there at a number of sessions, providing valuable first-hand narratives that enlighten and delight — especially telling are his stories of relationships between Ruby and his champions: John Hammond, George Wein, Hank O’Neal, Tony Bennett, Mat and Rachel Domber, and others.

And the little details that make a book even better are all in place: a loving introduction by one of Ruby’s long-time friends, Dan Morgenstern; a cover picture showing Ruby and Louis (the photographer another great friend of the music, Duncan Schiedt) . . . and orange was Ruby’s favorite color — one he associated with the aural experience of hearing Louis for the first time, his sound blazing out of the radio speaker.  The layout is easy on the eye, all in nicely readable type.

In the interests of full disclosure (as the lawyers and politicians say) I should point out that I admire Ruby’s playing immensely, met him in 1971, spoke with him a number of times, saw him at close range, and contributed information about some private sessions that I recorded to this book.

BORN TO PLAY is a fascinating document, invaluable not only for those who regarded Ruby as one of the marvels of jazz — it is also a chronicle of one man’s fierce determination to create beauty in a world that sometimes seemed oblivious to it.  Many large-scale works of scholarship are thorough but cold, and the reader feels the chill.  Others have adulation intrude on the purpose of the work.  Tom Hustad’s book is an ideal mixture of scholarship, diligence, and warm affection: its qualities in an admirable balance.  I think the only way this book could have been improved would have been for Ruby to continue on past 2002 and the book to follow him.

Click here to purchase a copy.

And here’s something to beguile you as you click — the Braff-Barnes Quartet of 1974 (Ruby, George Barnes, Wayne Wright, Michael Moore) sauntering through LIZA:

May your happiness increase.