Tag Archives: George Stafford

HOT CLASSICISM: The TOKARSKI-SCHUMM-SMITH CHAMBER TRIO IN CONCERT, JANUARY 13, 2016

Kris Tokarski Trio

Here is video evidence of an extraordinary trio concert of the Kris Tokarski Trio — Kris Tokarski, piano; Andy Schumm, cornet / clarinet; Hal Smith, drums — performed at the Old US Mint, New Orleans, on January 13, 2016.  The stuff that dreams are made on:

Albert Wynn’s PARKWAY STOMP:

Tiny Parham’s CONGO LOVE SONG:

Doc Cooke’s HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN:

SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY:

Mister Morton’s ode to Joe Oliver, MISTER JOE:

FROG-I-MORE RAG (or FROGGIE MOORE, if you prefer):

In honor of Danny Altier, MY GAL SAL:

ANGRY:

RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

Please note: these lovely performances, simultaneously delicate and intense, aren’t copies of the recordings, but evocations of cherished multi-layered creations.  Yes, you’ll hear echoes of Beiderbecke, Keppard, Dominique, Oliver, Noone, Simeon, Livingston, Hines, Morton, James P. Johnson, Alex Hill, Catlett, Benford, Singleton, Stafford, Pollack, Krupa, Dodds . . . but what you are really hearing is the Kris Tokarski Trio, graciously embracing present and past, leading us into the future of hot music.  And in its balance, the trio reminds me of the legendary chamber groups that embody precision and passion in balance, although Mozart, Brahms, and Dvorak created no trios for piano, cornet, and trap kit.  Alas.  They didn’t know what was possible.

I’m thrilled that these videos exist, and although I am fiendishly proud of my own efforts, these are much better than what I could have done.  Now, all I want is the Kris Tokarski World Tour, with a long stopover in New York.

Here is Kris’s Facebook page, and here is  his YouTube channel.  Want more? Make sure your favorite festival producer, clubowner, concert promoter, or friends with a good piano and a budget experiences these videos.

May your happiness increase!

“HIS TALE NEEDED TELLING”: THE ODD BRILLIANCE OF P.T. STANTON

PT STANTON

I am fascinated by those great artists whose stories don’t get told: Frank Chace, Spike Mackintosh, and George Finola among many.  I revere the heroes who have been celebrated in biographies, but where are the pages devoted to Quentin Jackson, George Stafford, Danny Alvin, Dave Schildkraut, Gene Ramey, Joe Smith, John Nesbit, Denzil Best, Vernon Brown, Shad Collins, Ivie Anderson, Walter Johnson, John Collins, Allan Reuss, and fifty others?

But there are people who understand.  One is Andrew Sammut, who’s written beautifully about Larry Binyon and others.  Another scholar who has a great love for the worthy obscure is Dave Radlauer.  Dave’s diligence and willingness to share audio evidence are remarkable.  He has done noble work on the multi-instrumentalist Frank “Big Boy” Goudie on his website JAZZ RHYTHM, an apparently bottomless offering, splendidly intimidating in its munificence — with webpages and audio programs devoted to many luminaries, well-known (Louis, Goodman, Shaw, Carter) as well as the obscure (Jerry Blumberg, Benny Strickler, Bill Dart, and three dozen others).  It’s not just music, but it’s cultural context and social history — close observation of vanished landscapes as well as loving portraits of characters in unwritten jazz novels.

Here’s a quick example.  For me, just to know that there was a San Francisco bar called BURP HOLLOW is satisfying enough.  To know that they had live hot jazz there is even better.  To hear tapes of it delights me immensely.

And listen to this, another mysterious delight: a quartet from the MONKEY INN, led by pianist Bill Erickson in 1961, with trombonist Bob Mielke and a glistening trumpeter or cornetist who had learned his Hackett well.  Was it Jerry Blumberg or Johnny Windhurst on a trip west?  I can’t say, but Unidentified is a joy to listen to.

But back to P.T. Stanton. I will wager that his name is known only to the most devoted students of West Coast jazz of a certain vintage. I first encountered him — and the Stone Age Jazz Band — through the gift of a Stomp Off record from my friend Melissa Collard.

STONE AGE JAZZ BAND

Radlauer has presented a rewarding study of the intriguingly nonconformist trumpeter, guitarist, occasional vocalist Stanton here.  But “here” in blue hyperlink doesn’t do his “The Odd Brilliance of P.T. Stanton” justice.  I can only warn the reader in a gentle way that (s)he should be willing to spend substantial time for a leisurely exploration of the treasure: nine pages of text, with rare photographs, and more than fifty otherwise unknown and unheard recordings.

Heard for the first time, Stanton sounds unusual.  That is a charitable adjective coined after much admiring attention.  A casual listener might criticize him as a flawed brassman. Judged by narrow orthodoxy, he isn’t loud enough; his tone isn’t a clarion shout. But one soon realizes that what we hear is not a matter of ineptitude but of a different conception of his role.  One hears a choked, variable — vocal — approach to the horn, and a conscious rejection of the trumpet’s usual majesty, as Stanton seems, even when officially in front of a three-horn ensemble, to be eschewing the traditional role in favor of weaving in and out of the ensemble, making comments, muttering to himself through his horn. It takes a few songs to accept Stanton as a great individualist, but the effort is worth it.

He was eccentric in many ways and brilliant at the same time — an alcoholic who could say that Bix Beiderbecke had the right idea about how to live one’s life, someone who understood both Bunk Johnson and Count Basie . . . enigmatic and fascinating.  And his music!

In the same way that JAZZ LIVES operates, Dave has been offering his research and musical treasures open-handedly.  But he has joined with Grammercy Records to create a series of CDs and downloads of remarkable music and sterling documentation. The first release will be devoted to the Monkey Inn tapes; the second will be a generous sampling of Stanton and friends 1954-76, featuring Frank “Big Boy” Goudie and Bunky Coleman (clarinets), Bob Mielke and Bill Bardin (trombones) and Dick Oxtot (banjo and vocals). Radlauer has plans for ten more CD sets to come in a series to be called Frisco Jazz Archival Rarities: unissued historic recordings of merit drawn from live performances, jam sessions and private tapes 1945-75.

I will let you know more about these discs when they are ready to see the light of day.  Until then, enjoy some odd brilliance — not just Stanton’s — thanks to Dave Radlauer.

May your happiness increase!

HEROIC FIGURES IN THE SHADOWS

A friend recently asked me about a valued musician, now gone, who never seemed to get the honors he deserved. “Why doesn’t anyone pay attention to X?”  I recalled that X was always working in groups led by A Star, a powerful personality.  I have no idea if X wanted to lead a group and couldn’t, but he never said in public that he felt the opportunity had been denied him.

It made me think again about “being a leader” in jazz.  We celebrate the musicians whose names appear on the record labels and the marquees, in boldface in discographies.  Theirs are the sounds we know, and they do deserve our attention and our love. Think of a universe without Count Basie — the sky suddenly grows dark at the mere statement of such a void.

But the Stars rely on the often semi-anonymous players who keep the great ship’s rhythmic engines humming.  Consider Ed Lewis, Joe Muranyi, Fred Guy, Leo McConville, Bobby Tucker, Wendell Marshall, George Stafford, Tommy Thunen, Curley Russell, Dave Bowman — players who didn’t chafe to be center stage.  There is a special cozy corner of Paradise for those who didn’t have the urge to solo, but who created backgrounds and section sounds that delight us, that made the Stars sound so fine.

Although he was a famous leader and a notable Personality, I think of Eddie Condon in this respect, as someone who cared more about how the band sounded than whether he soloed. Dave Tough, Freddie Green, also.

Musicians will tell you that “being a leader” brings what we call “fame,” but this public place can be a nuisance.  Visibility brings recognition: no longer are you third alto in the reed section, one of the Wisconsin Skyrockets, you are THE Skyrocket, and people know your name and recognize you.

But that recognition also means that fans want to talk with you when you are on your way to the bathroom.  People who “just love your music” grab your upper arm.  Some have their own ideas about songs you should be playing, in what tempos, and who you should Sound Like.  Play the clarinet, and you are told about an admirer’s favorite Benny Goodman record.  Sing, and you hear all about Billie Holiday (“Tsk, tsk.  Those drugs.”) or perhaps Diana Krall.

If you are leading a group in a club, the club-owner heads directly for you when something goes wrong.  You have to get the gigs.  You have to handle the money.

You have to deal with the personalities in the band (A, late again; B, grimy again; C, in despair; D, texting when not playing; E, a model in all things but eager to point out the flaws of A, B, C, and D.)

You have to talk on the microphone.  You must encourage the crowd to put money in the tip basket or buy CDs.  You deal with requests, with people who drink too much and talk too loudly.

Often, when your musicians are upset, frustrated, or angry, they blame you, or they simply mutter. “Sixty bucks?  Is that all?”  “My shepherd’s pie is cold.”  I hate that song.  Do we have to play it?”

To paraphrase Judy Syfers, “My God, who would want to lead a band?”

So let’s cheer for the Invaluable Near-Anonymities, the wonderful professionals in the String section of Charlie Parker with Strings, the baritone wizard Charlie Bubeck, who anchored the Ozzie Nelson band — reed players talked of him reverently, but he never led a date; the fellows strumming behind Django and Stephane.  They may have looked deeply into “the music business” and said, “I’d rather drive a cab than lead a band.”

A brief, wholly improvised list:

Zilner Randolph, Les Robinson, Buzzy Drootin, Mary Osborne, Nick Fatool, Ed Cuffee, Bill Triglia, Danny Bank, Dick Vance, Max Farley, Frank Orchard, Bob Casey, Red Ballard, Mickey McMickle, Jimmy Maxwell, Cliff Leeman, George Berg, Al Klink, Lee Blair, Leon Comegys, John Simmons, Les Spann, Allan Reuss, Don Frye, Kansas Fields, Louis Metcalf.

And a thousand more.  And certainly their living counterparts.  (I’ve limited my list to the Departed because I thought that no one I know would like to see their name on a list of the Brilliant Shadowy Underrated.  You and I know the people who make jazz go . . . !)

These people don’t win polls.  They don’t have to stand still for autograph hunters.  But where would we be without them?

May your happiness increase! 

LIGHTLY ASKING DEEP QUESTIONS: BILLY MINTZ QUARTET

When it comes to jazz drumming, I’ve always loved the flow of the rhythms, but I’ve even more deeply gravitated towards sounds, to melodists — Baby Dodds, Kaiser Marshall, Walter Johnson, Kaiser Marshall, George Stafford, Gene Krupa, Dave Tough, Zutty Singleton, George Wettling, Jo Jones, Sidney Catlett, Jake Hanna, Mike Burgevin, Kevin Dorn, Hal Smith, Jeff Hamilton, Clint Baker.  And, more recently, musicians I’ve come to think of as sound-painters: Hyland Harris, Ali Jackson, Eliot Zigmund, Matt Wilson, and Billy Mintz.

BIlly Mintz is a fascinating creative force because he is not only a splendidly rewarding player — inventing and arranging sounds in new, impressionistic patterns that stand on their own next to the best improvisations of any contemporary jazz improviser — but his compositions have flavor, depth, and scope.  His music is curious — peering behind the curtains — rather than formulaic or aggressive.

I’ve heard some of Billy’s compositions explored on live sessions with a a variety of musicians, including saxophonist Lena Bloch.  Here is one of my favorites, HAUNTED, recorded by the composer and pianist Roberta Piket in Austria, earlier in 2013:

I am pleased to tell you that there is now an entire CD of Billy’s compositions issued by Thirteenth Note Records . . . played not only by the composer, but by pianist / singer Roberta Piket; John Gross, tenor saxophone; Putter Smith, string bass.

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Don’t let the somber cover picture fool you: beneath that hat and shades, Billy’s eyes gleam and his heart is lively.

The songs (a few have gained wide recognition) are BEAUTIFUL YOU / FLIGHT / DIT / DESTINY (Roberta, vocal) / HAUNTED / SHMEAR / CANNONBALL / BEAUTIFUL / UGLY BEAUTIFUL / RELENT / RETRIBUTION / AFTER RETRIBUTION.

Their titles speak to Billy’s poetic, inquiring sensibility.  His music doesn’t provide pat answers; rather it asks questions: “What is play?  What is sadness?  Where might we be going?  Must it always be the same thing? Who says what is beautiful?  Would you care to join me?” and others of equal weight.

The music on this quartet CD isn’t abrasive or abusive: Billy, John, Roberta, and Putter love melody, but they also love to experiment with the traditional shapes of the improvising quartet — so instruments have amiable conversations, echoing or sweetly correcting one another; duos and solos spring up within compositions; balances shift within the piece.  Each song seems both new and composed, inventive and inevitable, and the procession from one piece to another on the disc is cumulative.  This CD is not the traditional melody-statement / solos / drum fours / melody-statement, and that’s all to the good.  No explorations, no surprises!

Here you can read more about Billy and hear samples from the CD: inquiring readers and hearers will be rewarded.  You can find out more at Thirteenth Note Records as well.

May your happiness increase!

RIMSHOTS, CYMBALS, STOMP and SWING: MISTER GEORGE STAFFORD

My friend and mentor Andrew and I have been having a conversation in cyberspace about the delicious unerring playing of drummer George Stafford. Stafford drove the Charlie Johnson orchestra, but he appeared on precious few recordings.  Here’s a particularly brilliant one — led by the Blessed Eddie Condon — as “Eddie’s Hot Shots.”  They were, and they are: Leonard “Ham” Davis, trumpet; Jack Teagarden, trombone and vocal; Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow, C-melody saxophone; Happy Caldwell, tenor saxophone; Eddie, banjo; Joe Sullivan, piano; Stafford, drums.

This is the first take of I’M GONNA STOMP MR. HENRY LEE — part incitement to Dionysiac ecstasies, part ominous warning:

Please listen to Stafford!  His rimshots behind the first ensemble chorus, lifting everything up — emphatic YESes all through; choke cymbal behind the earnest saxophone; pistol-shot rimshots all behind Teagarden’s singing; divine rattling and cackling on the wooden rims alongside Sullivan’s piano — excited commentaries; cymbal crashes and rolls into the final ensemble chorus, and a closing cymbal crash.

I am away from my books as I write this, so I cannot be sure, but I think Stafford died young — 1935? — which is a great sadness, although what he had to say to us was plenty.  Priceless, I think.

As much as I revere Catlett, Jo, and Gene, I would make space in my own Directory of Percussive Saints for George Stafford.  He goes right alongside Walter Johnson, Eddie Dougherty, O’Neil Spencer, and two dozen more.  They made the earth move in the most graceful and exultant ways.  Bless them.

P.S.  I’M GONNA STOMP has four composers — Jack and Eddie, Eddie’s friend George Rubens, and the magically invisible pianist Peck Kelley.  There’s a novel in itself . . .

May your happiness increase. 

“RED HOT! THAT’S WHAT!”: THE FAT BABIES ON DISC: “CHICAGO HOT”

Sometimes — even in this age of instantaneous communication — we are surprisingly insular.  I had heard a good deal about this marvelous Chicago hot jazz band called, oddly, THE FAT BABIES.  I knew they would be superb because of the musicians I knew: Andy Schumm, cornet and more; Paul Asaro, piano;  Dave Bock, trombone and more; John Otto, clarinet and alto saxophone; and Jake Sanders, tenor banjo — all players I had heard in person and of course admired.  Alex Hall, drums, and Beau Sample, string bass / leader, were names new to me, but I figured that musicians are known by the company they keep.

At the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party I acquired a copy of their new Delmark CD, CHICAGO HOT, and before I had a chance to listen to it, I also became the happy owner of WHAT A HEAVENLY DREAM — a Fats Waller and his Rhythm project led by Paul Asaro, this on the Rivermont label.  You can read my unashamedly ecstatic review of the Rivermont CD here.

CHICAGO HOT

CHICAGO HOT is accurately titled.  I was listening to it in the car today, and if you’d seen a very happy man at a stop light grinning like mad and clapping his hands and bobbing his head . . . three guesses as to that man’s identity.

Before I begin to explain and rhapsodize — for I can do no less — if you visit the band’s website here, you can hear samples from the CD.  The personnel is as mentioned above: Schumm, Bock, Otto, Asaro, Sanders, Sample, and Hall — with tuba legend Mike Waldbridge joining the band for the final track.  The song titles will state where this band is at: SNAKE RAG / LONDON CAFE BLUES / SAN / ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND / I SURRENDER, DEAR / DARDANELLA / BLACK SNAKE BLUES / HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN (with vocal interjections that I have taken as this post’s title) / FROGGIE MOORE / WILLOW TREE / WEARY BLUES / LIZA / PLEASE / SUSIE / TIGHT LIKE THIS / STOMP OFF, LET’S GO.  So you’ll note the exalted Presences: Papa Joe, Jelly Roll, Louis, Fats, James P., Keppard, Doc Cooke, Bix, Miff, Bing, and their pals.  No vocals or jiving around — no funny-hat stuff — just CHICAGO HOT.

The Fat Babies have accomplished something brilliant on this disc and, I gather, continue to do so regularly in front of living audiences at Chicago venues and elsewhere.  That is, they easily handle the question of “transcription,” “imitation,” “emulation,” “evocation,” and creative reinvention.  What do all those words mean?  Put plainly, although many of the performances on this disc are based on hallowed recordings, I never got the sense that these living players were attempting to “play old records live.”  Their success, for me, is in the way they imbue these monumental artifacts with their own personalities, playing within the style but feeling free to move around in it.

Thus, for one example, Paul Asaro, when faced with a thirty-two bar solo on a song made immortal by Louis Armstrong in 1928, doesn’t place on himself the burden of “becoming” Earl Hines or “reproducing” Earl’s famous chorus.  No — Paul Asaro plays Asaro in those thirty-two bars, drawing on a deep knowledge of Morton, Waller, and a thousand other sources.

Dave Bock sounds like someone who’d be first call for a 1929 Henderson date; John Otto moves from Rod Cless to Darnell Howard.  Andy Schumm, who has legions of starry-eyed admirers who want him to do nothing but become Bix before their eyes, evokes the tougher, more vibrato-laden work of Dominique and George Mitchell with a lovely mix of power and delicacy.

And that rhythm section!  I could listen to Asaro, Sanders (very wistful single-string solos and driving rhythm), Sample (somewhere Milton J. Hinton is grinning admiringly), Hall (who moves nimbly from the heavy brushwork Tommy Benford favors to evocations of Chauncey Morehouse, early Jo Jones — before Basie — George Stafford, Wettling, and other heroes) — swinging!

That swing is worth noting in itself.  Too many recordings / concerts devoted to some historically-accurate notion of what “early jazz” sounded like are at a distance from loose, happy swing.  Now, I know that what constitutes “swing” and “swinging” changes from decade to decade and from individual subjective perception, but the Fat Babies don’t feel compelled to imitate the rhythmic conventions of a 1923 recording just because the Gennett disc captured a particular sound.  But they don’t “update” in annoying ways: there are no quotes from ANTHROPOLOGY or BLUE SEVEN.

Too many words?  Take a look at this, recorded by my friend Jamaica Fisher Knauer:

To quote Chubby Jackson, “Wasn’t that swell?”  Or Alex Hill, “Ain’t it nice?”  (As someone who has a smartphone but doesn’t center his life around it, I must say that this video — and others by “victorcornet21” are the only reason to even considering buying an iPhone.)

I don’t write this about all that many discs, but CHICAGO HOT is a splendidly essential purchase if you feel as I do about hot music, exquisitely and expertly played.

And a postscript.  Liner notes are sometimes as energetically effusive — and just as accurate — as the blurbs on the back cover of a best-selling book.  But Kim Cusack, reed wizard and singer, doesn’t do such things.  He is outspoken and candid about the music he loves and the arts he practices — so notes by Kim are both a rare honor and testimony to his joyous endorsement of this band.

And — as a bonus — I learned from those notes what the band’s (to me) odd name was.  It comes from an expression young Beau Sample heard in his home state, Texas: “It’s hotter than a fat baby.”  Now you know.

May your happiness increase.

“PEACEMAKERS, HEALERS, RESTORERS, STORYTELLERS AND LOVERS OF ALL KINDS”: ANDY SCHUMM’S GANG at JAZZ at CHAUTAUQUA (September 23, 2012)

Reading my colleague M. Figg’s blogpost on Don Murray — meditations witty and sad — made me think, not for the first time that although the Great Hallowed Figures are dead and their recorded legacies are small (think of Frank Melrose, Frank Teschemacher, Rod Cless, George Stafford, Tony Fruscella, Leon Roppolo, Guy Kelly and a hundred others) there are vivid compensations in 2012.

We don’t have to restrict ourselves to the anguished study of too-short solos on a few records (think of Teagarden and Tesch having the sweetest conversation that you almost can’t hear on the Dorsey Brothers’ ROUND EVENING) . . . we have Living Players who bridge past and present right in front of us.  “In front of my video camera, too,” I think with unbounded gratitude.

One of these fellows is the sly, surprising, lyrical, hot Andy Schumm, already legendary.  (I know there are gatherings of listeners who are out-Schumming one another: “I knew Andy was a genius when I heard him in 1993,” “You did? I knew he was a genius before he was out of diapers,” etc.)  My own acquaintance with Mister Schumm only started in this century, but he amazes every time, on cornet, piano, clarinet, drums, comb . . . more to come!

Here are Andy and friends at Jazz at Chautauqua just a few months ago: Mike Greensill, piano; Howard Alden, guitar; Bob Reitmeier, clarinet; Jon Burr, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums — honoring the music of the early Twenties into the middle Thirties, with associations with Fats Waller, Jabbo Smith, James P. Johnson, Bing Crosby, Garvin Bushell, Phil Napoleon, Bix, Eddie Condon, and others.  Lovely subtle forceful romping hot jazz — for our listening and dining pleasure, performances one can marvel at over and over.

MY SWEETIE WENT AWAY:

PERSIAN RUG:

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN:

SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

Thank you, gentlemen, for so bravely creating this music for us — right out there in the open.

I take my title from sweet deep words uttered by the Dalai Lama — connected so strongly to this music: “The planet does not need more successful people.  The planet needs desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.”  Hail, Andy, Mike, Bob, Howard, Jon, Ricky . . . who fit so many of those categories in their musical generosities.

May your happiness increase.

“FOUR ON THE FLOOR,” or “IT ALL GOES BACK TO DISCO”

1930 Ludwig Streaked Opal drum set: visit http://www.olympicdrums.com for more information

In the late afternoon of December 31, 2011, the Beloved and I were in the car, heading from Novato to Napa in California.  The car radio was set to NPR — not a bad thing — and an ingenuous young woman reporter for ALL THINGS CONSIDERED came on to ask the pressing question: what sound was prevalent in all the pop music hits of 2011?  I heard a throbbing beat that was soon drowned out by some version of electronic thrumming and whining . . . and then she came on the air to answer her own question: four beats on the bass drum.  Here’s the transcription of what she said:

There’s one sound that pretty much dominated pop music this year. Monster hits by LMFAO, Adele, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Britney Spears and more all relied on the hammering beat known as “four-on-the-floor.”

“You feel it in your whole body, just on every beat: boom, boom, boom, boom,” says Jordan Roseman. “It’s so easy to understand, it’s almost hard not to move to it.”

Roseman, better known as DJ Earworm, is intimately familiar with these songs and their matching beats. He mixed them all together in his annual mashup of the year’s biggest pop hits, a series he calls “The United State of Pop.” He says that four-on-the-floor, while not a new sensation, dominated the radio dial in 2011.

“It goes back to disco. Right when these big speakers came along, all of a sudden the kick drum took this new prominence in music because you could really feel it,” Roseman says. “It’s definitely peaking right now.”

You can download Roseman’s 2011 mashup, “World Go Boom,” at the DJ Earworm website.

Call me a nostalgia-addled dinosaur, a Swing Era relic (I’ve been called worse) but I thought “four on the floor” was cherished standard practice in all jazz performance until the very early Forties when (let’s say) Kenny Clarke started dropping bombs.

Before then, a drummer who couldn’t keep time — not necessarily loud — on the bass drum was considered inept, rather like the novice waitperson who has to ask each of the two diners, “Who gets the Greek omelet?”

I wish that the NPR story created a rush to study the recordings and videos of the masters: Krupa, Dodds, Jones, Catlett, Tough, Wettling, Marshall, Stafford, King, Berton,Morehouse, Singleton, Hanna, Bauduc, Leeman, Rich, Drootin, Dougherty, Walter Johnson, Spencer, Webb, Bellson, Shadow Wilson, Best, and a hundred more — or to sit at the feet of the contemporary percussion masters Smith, Burgevin, Hamilton, Dorn, Tyle, Baker, Siers . . . but somehow I don’t see this happening any time soon.

Because, as you know, “It all goes back to disco,” and our contemporary awareness of the past can be measured with a micrometer.

LIGHTS OUT (CLOSE YOUR EYES AND DREAM OF ME)

In the name of accuracy, I must report that other copies of the sheet music for this song (circa 1935-6) have Kate Smith on the cover, so I don’t know if Louis ever performed it.  But he did record Hill’s THERE’S A CABIN IN THE PINES, and he would have known his friend Bing’s recording of THE LAST ROUNDUP.  The song seems to have been more popular with sweet bands — the lyrics below are connected in cyberspace to Eddy Duchin — but that doesn’t rule out Louis hearing or performing it, given his deep affinity for the Lombardo brothers. 

A tangential Louis-connection is that LIGHTS OUT was recorded by a jazz combo — with a vocal by Chick Bullock — under tenorist Art Karle’s nominal leadership (January 1936, Brunswick) with Mezz Mezzrow on clarinet, Joe Bushkin on piano and legendary drummer George Stafford as well as Frank Newton!

Beyond that, we have to imagine Louis tenderly asking the Beloved to close her eyes and dream of him.  I can hear the 1935 Decca band — think of THANKS A MILLION — doing this perfectly.  

The lyrics aren’t complex or striving for cleverness, but they’re very touching in their simplicity:

Lights out, sweetheart,
One more perfect day is through.
Lights out, sweetheart,
One more perfect dream come true.
We’ve reached the hour of parting,
So kiss me tenderly.
Lights out, sweetheart,
Close your eyes and dream of me.

Here’s a simple version of the melody, played sweetly by someone who may answer to “djweth”:

And a cover portrait of Billy Hill:

Let’s all sing!

And a postscript, sent to me from the invaluable Jack Rothstein, who knew “Arthur” Karle in Boston in the late Forties, about the LIGHTS OUT record date: “Arthur Karle told me they needed a piano player so he called Bushkin.  His father answered the phone and told him Joey was at the movies.  Arthur persuaded him to go get him.  He went but they wouldn”t page him so he bought a ticket and from the balcony yelled for Joey to go home.  And that’s how Bushkin got his first recording date.  It was the little Loews on 86th St. between Lexington and Third, directly across the street from the Loews Orpheum (the big Loews).”

MAGGIE CONDON HAS A PLAN

Last week, I met Maggie Condon.  If you don’t recognize her immediately, let me give you a hint:

Yes, that family.  Maggie is the elder daughter of Eddie and Phyllis Condon; she and her husband Peter (a most amiable filmmaker) live in the family’s Washington Square apartment, where I visited Maggie recently. 

I should say here that Eddie Condon — bandleader, man with an idea, guitarist, promoter — is one of my most beloved heroes.  When I started listening to other jazzmen beyond Louis, I naturally gravitated to any and all records that had any connection with Eddie — from the early Twenties to the middle Seventies.  And I was lucky enough to see the great man himself: once at close range, three times in concert. 

I knew I was in the presence of something remarkable when Maggie offered me the tour of the Condon apartment — which began by her walking to the window that overlooked Washington Square Park and pointing out the diagonal path she remembered seeing her father take across the park to the club named for him (47 West Third Street).  Then she opened a box and unwrapped what was and is a sacred object — Eddie’s first banjo, labeled on the back of the head “Slick Condon,” with a date of 1921.  Eddie had his own bedroom in the apartment because he and Phyllis — although truly devoted to each other — kept different hours.  Phyllis, an ambitious woman, was up early, someone with things to do.  Eddie came home late from the club and wanted darkness and silence for his daylight-hours sleeping pleasure: thus his room was painted a dark green, almost black. 

The holy relics continued to surface: one of Eddie’s custom-made Gibson tenor guitars:

From another angle, with reverence:

One more:

And here’s the label on the outside of the guitar case — written by Phyllis:

Eddie called the jazz magazine BROW BEAT — and here’s the only award he ever got from them:

But back to the title.  “Maggie Condon has a plan?”

Yes, Maggie Condon is making a video documentary about her father — possibly a feature-length film.  She’s been planning it for more than twenty years, and is well-qualified, having been a film and television director for a number of years.  As I write this, she is doing a series of video interviews — of jazz scholars who knew and loved Eddie, jazz musicians who played alongside him, people who saw him at close range. 

The film, let me assure you, is a daughter’s tribute to her father — as a man, as a musician — no filmed pathobiography here.

Why Eddie Condon? 

If you were to search blindly through the morass of semi-factoidal information that makes up the web, you might find that Eddie was (some say) more well-known for talking than playing, a not-very-adept rhythm guitarist (according to others) who didn’t take solos; a proponent of a now-dead style.  Even though Eddie loathed the word “Dixieland,” and said that it was “music for the farmers who wanted to hear THE SAINTS,” he is identified with the form.

All wrong. 

Three minutes of any Condon record would sweep some of this fallacy away, but there’s more that needs to be said.  That Bx Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong called him their friend should say something as well. 

First, Eddie was a rebel against the Midwestern world in which he was born.  Who would have expected a young man from Indiana to find his calling in that noisy music called jazz?  And, odder still, who would have expected that Condon boy to be so thoroughly color-blind that he would organize integrated record sessions before 1930, picking musicians by their talent rather than their compliexion at a time when this wasn’t done?  Even as late as the mid-Forties, an integrated Condon band was shut out of a Washington, D.C. concert hall because the DAR wouldn’t countenance race-mixing onstage.  So he was a pioneer.

Critics and social historians get justifiably excited about John Hammond bringing Teddy Wilson into the Benny Goodman band; they extol the heroism of Branch Rickey, getting Jackie Robinson onto the field in the white major leagues. 

But who celebrates Eddie Condon for getting Fats Waller and Hot Lips Page into Carnegie Hall?  And when the Condon groups broadcast from the Ritz Theatre and Town Hall over the Blue Network in 1944-45, how many people (here and overseas) thrilled to the music and then realized that the people whose art they were charmed by were the same people who had to sit in the back of the bus?  (Exhibit A above: “Eddie’s Hot Shots” was what they used to call “a mixed band,” and the record is still a Hot landmark.)

Ken Burns didn’t pay much attention to Eddie; I have yet to see a Jazz at Lincoln Center tribute to the man and his music.  Eddie was Caucasian (unfashionable), he made a living from his music (unthinkable), and he didn’t die young (unbelievable).  Even in the face of all these ideological burdens, he surely deserves to be celebrated.  Was it his fault that he had a good time, and that jazz wasn’t his martyrdom?   

He was the first jazz musician to have his name on a club, and it’s not incidental that the music that came out of that club was free-wheeling and passionately expert.  And he brought jazz to television long before it became the soundtrack for many shows — as early as 1942, and his EDDIE CONDON’S FLOOR SHOW remains a model of what could be done with the form — informal, funny, and Hot. 

With Milt Gabler, another down-home urban saint, Eddie and his gang made extraordinary records for the Commodore label in the late Thrities and early Forties, moving over to Decca and later (under George Avakian’s benign, wise guidance) to Columbia for classic sessions in the Fifties.    

So I’m thrilled that Maggie is interviewing the elders of the tribe as well as getting acquainted with the younger musicians who know and love the jazz that Eddie nurtured and sustained. 

If you’ve got memories of being in Eddie’s club, let’s hear them!  If you remember the first time you heard a Condon record, tell us!  (And — I’m probably not supposed to say this, but consider it whispered: if you’re a wealthy jazz-lover who would like to make sure more people know who Eddie Condon is — is, not was — it would be nice to hear from you, too.) 

Not someday, but now.  More to come!

BLANK PAGES AND SILENCES

Serious jazz scholarship (as opposed to reviews) began more than seventy years ago: early books by Robert Goffin, Hughes Panassie, Charles Delanay, Wilder Hobson, Charles Edward Smith and Frederic Ramsey come to mind, as well as essays by Ernst Ansermet, Otis Ferguson, and Roger Pryor Dodge. 

In 2010, there is no scarcity of books on jazz, from musicology to polemical ideology.  Biographies and autobiographies — from Armstrong to Zwerin with perhaps one hundred subjects between — the autobiographies of Buck Clayton, Sammy Price, Bob Wilber, biographies of Monk, Mingus, Holiday, Fitzgerald, Parker, Paul Desmond, Ellington.  Books have been published about musicians who are still relatively obscure: Mark Miller on Herbie Nichols, Anthony Barnett on Henry Crowder.  

John Chilton’s studies of Bechet, Hawkins, Eldridge, and Red Allen are models of the form.  Ed Berger and his father did right by Benny Carter; Ed devoted a book to George Duvivier and is working on one about Joe Wilder.  My shelves are full, and I’m not listing criticism and discography. 

Most of what I have noted above (with admiration) is jazz scholarship from the outside — by enthusiastic listeners who have immersed themselves in jazz.  I would be the last to disparage that as an art form, as writers who do it include Martin Williams, Dan Morgenstern, Gene Lees, Chris Albertson, Frank Driggs, Nat Hentoff and two dozen others.  A few musicians — rare souls — who were also fine writers: Dick Wellstood, Richard M. Sudhalter, Rex Stewart, Dick Katz.    

But even given all of this, how often have jazz musicians been asked to tell their stories? 

I know that there is a history of popular journalism — early on in urban Black newspapers — of getting quotations from musicians, but I wonder how many utterances that were attributed were actually spoken by the musicians themselves.  Later on, one had DOWN BEAT and METRONOME, and smaller magazines — Art Hodes’ THE JAZZ RECORD, here and abroad.  Some of this “journalism” perpetuated the stereotype of the musician as an eccentric character who spoke an unintelligible hipster gibberish.     

There are, of course, the pioneering recorded interviews of Jelly Roll Morton done in 1938 — mythic in many ways — that might be the first oral history of a jazz musician.  Whether you take them as an extended piece of performance art or as first-hand narrative / reportage, they remain invaluable.

Others have attempted to let the players speak — the Oral History Project had musicians interviewing their peers and friends, Stanley Dance’s series of books, the Shapiro / Hentoff HEAR ME TALKIN’ TO YA, Gitler’s SWING TO BOP, the diligent work of Bill Spilka, Hank O’Neal’s book THE GHOSTS OF HARLEM, collections of interviews and profiles by Whitney Balliett, Peter Vacher, Max Jones.  Phil Schaap has done extensive, rewarding radio interviews for forty years now.  Lester Young spoke to Chris Albertson and Francois Postif.  And irreplaceable video-documentaries focus on Ben Webster, Lester, Goodman, Phil Woods.  Fifty years ago, Riverside Records recorded Coleman Hawkins and Lil Hardin Armstrong telling their stories.             

But all of this is outweighed by the invisibility, the unheard voices of musicians. 

Who thought to ask Kaiser Marshall or Walter Johnson anything after they had finished a set with the Fletcher Henderson band?  Who interviewed Ivie Anderson?  Allen Reuss?  Jimmy Rowles?  Dave McKenna?  Al Cohn?  Shad Collins?  Barry Galbraith?  Shorty Baker?  Did anyone ask Denzil Best or Nick Fenton about what it was like to play at Minton’s?  Who spoke with Joe Smith or Joe Nanton about their experiences?  George Stafford, Tiny Kahn, Nick Fatool, Dave Tough?  (I know some of these figures were interviewed or analyzed by my hero Whitney Balliett, but the burden of jazz history of this sort shouldn’t have to rest on one writer’s shoulders.)

Granted, many stellar musicians were once anonymous sidemen and women, and the leaders of bands got all the attention.  So there are more interviews of Ellington than of Johnny Hodges, more of Goodman than of Vido Musso, more of Basie than of Jack Washington.  But Swing Era fans knew every member of the reed section in their favorite orchestras.

Thus claims of “obscurity” have to be taken less seriously: there was a time when Cootie Williams was nearly as well known as Jackie Robinson would be — you may substitute names you prefer in this equation of “famous jazz musician” and “famous sports figure.” 

I can imagine a number of reasons for musicians being ignored.

Some musicians would rather play than talk about their playing; some are even taciturn, although articulate.  And sometimes even the most garrulous players are not the best interview subjects.  “What was it like to play with Big Boy Smith?” one asks.  “Oh, it was a ball!  We had a great time!” the musician answers.  The interviewer waits for more.  “Do you remember any specific incidents?”  “Oh, no.  It was a lot of fun.  We couldn’t wait to get on the bandstand.”  And so on.  I’ve had this happen to me with the most sophisticated players here and in Europe.  They wereen’t reluctant to talk, but they weren’t intuitive novelists themselves.

Although cordial to outsiders, many musicians also don’t see the point of discussing serious matters — like music — with them.  Too much explaining.  Life is short; the next set is coming soon.   This does say something about the unseen wall between themselves and fans — people who don’t know what it is to play, to improvise professionally, come from a different planet.  Nice folks, but aliens.  Even sweet-natured Bobby Hackett referred to the audience as “the enemy.”  “Fans” and “academics” are friendly, “critics” and “writers” might be useful, but none of them really know

And oftentimes, musicians are ambushed by people who want to talk wishing to talk at inopportune times.  A musician asked to comment on the music she’s just played after a forty-five minute set may well be drained by the effort.  When they’re not playing, musicians talk of other subjects, including the cost of things, their most recent car repair, health care proposals.  Anything is more interesting than responding to “What inspires you when you take a solo?”  Some may want to be left in peace, to eat their scrambled eggs while they’re somewhat hot.  And who could blame them?       

When some venerable musicains are finallyinterviewed when they have become venerable, they have forgotten the details.  What they did forty years ago wasn’t musical history, but a way of making a living.  And even those who have sharp memories may not want to tell all: candor might mean losing friends or gigs.  And some aren’t interested in reliving their pasts: autobiographies and interviews are career-ending landmarks: what musicians do when they can no longer play.  Doing beats talking and theorizing.      

Others are “saving it for their book” — books that might get poublished posthumously if ever.  And when musicians die, sometimes their spouse discards “all that old clutter,” including letters and memorabilia.  Sometimes a divorce means that possessions get thrown out, or a son or daughter believes that Papa’s papers are worth millions and refuses to let anyone make money from themsee them.    

Having said all that, I want to put it aside. 

There were all the reasons that musicians might not want to be asked. 

But so many, I have to believe, would have been delighted to tell their stories.  Why weren’t they?

Much comes from the earliest perception of jazz as entertainment, hardly serious.  It was played at night in places where people talked loudly, smoked, drank, and danced.  Real art could be found in museums and in concert halls.  Jazz players weren’t ordinary people; they existed outside polite society; some thought them licentious madmen working themselves into ecstasies on the bandstand.  Who would be so bold as to ask one of them a question?  And what savage reply would result? 

The subject of race can’t be pushed aside.  If both White and Black listeners thought that jazz was primarily dance music, why study it?  Why take its players seriously?  And the early preponderance of White jazz scholars and critics — some Europeans and White Americans — can be traced to the idea that jazz was no more than “good-time music,” denying Afro-Americans proper dignity.  Would you want your daughter to marry a jazz musician?  Would you want your African-American child to concentrate his or her academic efforts on Cab Calloway, on Louis Armstrong?  But the initial racial imbalance did shift, and I suspect that Joe Nanton would have been happy to speak with a White college student if the student was both sincere and aware.  As would Rod Cless have been.       

I think of Emerson in “The American Scholar,” delivered in 1846, urging his audience to study their own culture — only in this way could a nation exist.  Many years after Emerson’s death, an American college student couldn’t expect to do advanced study about the authors of his time and place: a college education required German, Chaucer, rather than James T. Farrell and Charlie Chaplin.  To say nothing of Sidney Catlett.  And so it was for jazz.  By the time that academia caught up with it, so many of the progenitors were dead, their stories untold. 

The losses are irreparable.  To urge readers to interview a jazz musician today won’t replace what has been lost. 

What might Frank Teschmacher or Freddie Webster have told us, have someone thought it sufficiently important to ask them?

Those pages remain irrevocably blank.

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2010
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WHAT’S NEW?

 

The Beloved and I have been on the road for more than a month now.  While we are in the car, the CD player is (as Pee Wee Erwin used to say) hotter than a depot stove, with respites for cassettes (the Braff-Hyman Concord duet version of MY FAIR LADY) or the CBC. But most often we are listening to one of the two hundred-plus compact discs I brought along. (If ever someone was a candidate for an iPod, I nominate myself.)

Sinatra with Gordon Jenkins arrangements, 1937 Basie airshots, Dick Sudhalter, Jack Purvis, Lester Young, Seger Ellis, 1940 Ellington, Ben Webster, Spirituals to Swing, early Crosby, late Jimmy Rowles, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, the Teddy Wilson School for Pianists, and so on.

This musical buffet has led me to think, admittedly not for the first time, about artistic originality, creativity, and “influence.” Especially in jazz, listeners and critics privilege a musician’s having an individualistic, recognizable sound, something that musicians worked towards with some earnestness.  And it went beyond sound: musicians were proud of their origins but even more proud of telling their own stories.     

But taken to an extreme, this pride in individuality might have its limitations. It leads us to make the appearance of originality the greatest virtue, so that a cliche of jazz prose or oral history is, “When K came on the scene, we were amazed, because he didn’t sound like P, the main man at the time.”

So, when I listen to Jones-Smith, Inc. romping through “Lady Be Good” or “Shoe Shine Boy,” I think of the impact those sides must have had on 1937 listeners who knew nothing of Lester, Tatti Smith, Basie, Walter Page, and Jo Jones. The quintet we hear still seems daringly “original.” Certainly Lester sounds so unlike Hawkins and his disciples, unlike other musicians,even now. His rhythm, his tone, his flight. And it is certainly valid to praise the Basie rhythm trio for the same driving singularity.  I do not mean to slight Carl “Tatti” Smith in all this, but his percussive attack was not uncommon among trumpeters of that era.     

So it is a commonplace to cherish these sides for their singularity, that they sounded so unlike the records made in late 1936.  But what shall we then say of the Fats Waller turns of phrase and whole phrases so evident in Basie’s playing? (Earl Hines and James P. Johnson are in there, too.)  What of the influence of older bassists Steve Brown, Wellman Braud, and Pops Foster, on Page’s work here? Jo Jones’s drumming was certainly a revelation, but one can hear Sidney Catlett in his accents and Walter Johnson in his hi-hat work.  Perhaps some of Gene Krupa and George Stafford as well. 

And when one listens closely to the riffs that the Basie band threw around with such headlong delight on, say, “One O’Clock Jump,” one hears familiar late-Twenties / early-Thirties jazz figures: one of them in particular, is the phrase Louis sings to the words “Oh, memory” on that take of “Star Dust.”

Of course we might fold our hands and say meditatively, “Oh, everyone comes from somewhere,” which is undeniable.  But this makes me think of the way the conceive of jazz improvisation, the ways in which jazz finds us, and the technology that enwraps it. If you were to take someone who knows little about jazz to a club or concert performance, the novice usually says, with a hint of astonishment, “How do they know what they are playing? How do they know where to come in?” And the more experienced listener can say, “There is a common language in this music as in othercommunal arts. If one of the players says, ‘Let’s do “Undecided” in two flats,” the other players are familiar with that melody, its harmony, rhythmic patterns, the conventions that go with it.  All this is learned through intent listening, bandstand-practice, and intuitive empathy.”  So what looks “made up on the spot” both is and isn’t. And only the musicians, perhaps, know whether the trombonist is playing the solo she always plays or if she is stepping bravely out into space.  Whether she herself knows, at the time or after, is beyond our knowing and perhaps hers.   

Playing a musical instrument competently is difficult.  Inventing something that even approaches “originality” while playing an instrument, among other musicians, the notes moving by inexorably, is even more daunting.  So, as a result, many musicians have a set of learned patterns they can call upon while speeding through familiar repertory: their “crib,” some call it.  Thus, if you hear Waltie King speed through “It’s You Or No One,” one night, Waltie may dazzle with a wondrous display of technique allied to feeling.  “What a solo!” you say.  If you follow Waltie to his other gigs and hear him play that same song twenty times, would you be disillusioned if his solo on Thursday bore close resemblance to his brilliant exploits of Monday?  How many listeners truly know when a musician is inspired one night, playing it safe the next?  And, frankly, does it make a difference if the solo — ingenious or worked-out — charms our ears? 

This brings us to Lester Young, who said that a musician had to be original, and that he did not want to listen to his old records for fear of being influenced by them and becoming a “repeater pencil.”  His fellow musicians testify that he was astonishingly inventive, that he could play dozens of choruses at a jam session and never repeat himself. But even given that piece of mythology, can we be sure that his improvisations on the Vocalion “Lady Be Good” and “Shoe Shine Boy” were not, in some way, workings-out of ideas he had already played in other contexts?  Were those solos as original to him as they continue to appear to us?

We cannot know, since we have no recordings of Lester before this one (Jo Jones spoke of a “little silver record” (you’d have to imagine his odd verbal style here) he had once owned of Lester, circa 1934, but told Stu Zimny and myself that it had disappeared long ago).  And even if we had acetates stacked to the ceiling, the question might be both unanswerable and moot. 

And records themselves complicate the issue.  Before there were strings of alternate takes and session tapes, records were singular artifacts: three minutes capturing one unrepeatable occasion.  Think of the Armstrong-Hines “Weather Bird” or the Webster-Blanton “Star Dust” duet from Fargo 1940. Unique.  Irreplaceable.  But the same worrying questions apply to the music captured by microphones.  And the dazzling singularity of a recorded performance, by people who are now dead, puts a weight on the shoulders of living players whom we hope will create fresh solos each time they lift their horns.  I think that this also accounts for some of the pressure musicians feel when they must step into the recording studio, that their improvisations will attain a certain permanence, a permanence they might never intend. 

And jazz critics condescend to musicians who create solos and, with only minor variations, repeat them for years. I have quietly groaned when faced with yet another late Jack Teagarden performance of “Basin Street Blues,” but perhaps, in retrospect, I should not have done so.  It could not have been easy for him or anyone to a) find something new to say about that particular piece of music, and b) to play and sing so beautifully, even if every nuance had been worked out.  I was a trifle disappointed whenever Vic Dickenson, whom I saw often in his last years, would embark upon “In A Sentimental Mood,” because every note, sigh, and slur in it had been perfected through repetition. But, and some may find this sentimental, I would love to have him here to play it again. And it was an exquisite piece of music.

Such ruminations might seem to have no particular beginning and certainly no end.  Perhaps the only conclusion we might draw is the oldest one, that all kinds of human creativity are miraculous.  We should cherish those pieces of music that are both intelligent and impassioned, whether they seem “original” or derivative.  And road travelers might find a great deal of pleasure, as I do, listening to what Jack Purvis plays behind Seger Ellis on the unissued “Sleepy Time Gal” — but more about that in a future posting.