Tag Archives: Hal Smith

“ECHOES OF SWING”: APRIL DeSHIELDS IS DOING WHAT WE’D LIKE TO DO, ONLY BETTER

The invisible wall between musicians and non-musicians (“civilians” or, worse, “fans”) is often difficult to hurdle. Oh, there are the polite conversations between sets, and sometimes even a chat over a plate of food or a beverage, but the things we want to know of our heroes — “How do you DO what you do? What is the source of your magic?” — usually must be intuited and are rarely spoken of. April DeShields, a long-time devotee and close observer of the music we love, has made it possible for us to eavesdrop on relaxed, revealing conversations . . . beginning with two of my particular heroes, Hal Smith and Dan Barrett. And — delightfully — April is neither Mister Rogers nor Gunther Schuller: she’s admiring but never fawning, erudite but never austere.

I found April’s YouTube channel “ECHOES OF SWING” and watched her casually expert interviews. Before we move on, here’s a sample — the first part of her conversation with Hal, with musical examples of the very best kind as well as informal, informative chat about Hal’s ROADRUNNERS, and about what can be done with a small group where the only horn is the clarinet, and his own beginnings:

and the second part, where Hal speaks about influential drummers Ben Pollack, Wayne Jones, Nick Fatool, Fred Higuera, and two lessons with Jake Hanna; teaching aspiring jazz players at Banu Gibson’s NOLA trad jazz camp; the superb MY LITTLE GIRL by Hal’s Jazzologists; Hal’s own musical development and forming a personal identity . . . with portraits of Sidney Catlett, Lionel Hampton, and Dizzy Gillespie:

and the third part — with Hal’s affectionate memories of his supportive parents . . . up to current gigs in the time of Covid-19; the rigors and pleasures of remote recording, and of course, a few cat tales:

After I’d seen and enjoyed the first part of the Hal Smith interviews, I contacted April to ask her about herself, and after some reluctance, she opened the curtain:

When I was 6 my folks took me to the Sacramento Jazz Festival, and, during Abe Most’s set, he called up Tom Saunders (cornet player from Detroit, not the bass player – his nephew – who lives in NOLA now), of whom played Black Coffee and made the musical lightbulb go off on in my brain. He caught that from the stage, and being that my folks immediately decided it was late and we should get to bed, we walked out and Saunders followed us. He chatted up my folks, found out they wanted to go to bed, looked at me and said, “You don’t want to go, do you?” – to which I promptly replied “Nope.” He grabbed my hand, told my Dad that when I was tired he would take me back to our room, asked my Dad for a spare key so we wouldn’t wake them up, and off he took me- to the bar where I met Wild Bill Davison.

My father never did something like that, but I am so grateful he did, because every year at Sac and at subsequent festivals in other areas, Saunders was protector, teacher, and best friend. He and Chuck Hedges would load me up with lists of records to listen to as “homework” for the next year, and by the time I was 8 years old, I was correcting a guy who had a Saturday morning jazz show on a local public radio station. He invited me to the station, and from then on Saturday mornings would be very early drives with Dad to the radio station and I kept that up until I was nearly 30 and health kept me from doing it anymore.

My old boss at KRML moved to Palm Desert and is on the Board of the American Jazz Institute – he finally convinced me instead of asking me every month to record shows for him if I started to do my own series with no deadlines, he would re-broadcast material he wanted, and here we are. So it turned out to be a long story…. so many people came to me after Saunders died, thinking he was my father or grandfather, I just couldn’t bring myself to go to festivals for a long time without being in a puddle of tears. Many years later I’m finally ready to do what he would have wanted me to do – he would’ve been very mad at me for quitting in the first place!

So much of what I learned from those guys, and eventually the weekly calls with Saunders about everything, is so much a part of who I am in every way I just can’t imagine who I would be without them!

April has also posted some rare historical material: Tom Saunders’ Wild Bill documentary; a Saunders-Wild Bill set done in celebration of Bill’s eightieth birthday; an interview with Chuck Hedges . . . and just now, a two-part interview with Dan Barrett, beginning with his early jazz-conversion experiences and the history of early New Orleans jazz musicians migrating to California; Dan’s interactions with Andrew Blakeney and Joe Darensbourg — a side-portrait of Tom Saunders by April and her “heaven-opening epiphany”; memories of trombonist George Masso, and wonderful music from Dan and George’s CD:

Part Two begins with Mary Lou Williams’ LONELY MOMENTS from BED (Dan, Becky Kilgore, Eddie Erickson, and Joel Forbes); Dan and other trombone-playing arrangers; his long friendship with Howard Alden and how it led to a move to New York — through Jake Hanna, Red Norvo, and Dick Sudhalter — to gigs with Woody Allen and film work, the children’s project BEING A BEAR:

The third and final part of that interview is on the way . . . but I can’t wait to see April’s next gift to us.

May your happiness increase!

“I LIKE IT, I LIKE IT”: A NEW CD BY JOHN ROYEN’S NEW ORLEANS RHYTHM: KIM CUSACK, STEVE PIKAL, JOSHUA GOUZY, HAL SMITH (2020)

If the names above are familiar to you — John Royen, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Joshua Gouzy or Steve PIkal, string bass; Hal Smith, drums — then my copying Louis’ delighted exhortation will make perfect sense. To go a little deeper, here is a new CD, titled GREEN SWAMP, a Darnell Howard original. It contains seventeen performances and was beautifully recorded by New Orleans’ own Tim Stambaugh.

But perhaps four minutes of music would be a joy-spreading interlude at this point — a Don Ewell original, SOUTH SIDE STRUT, with Steve on string bass. (Don, as you might know, was John’s mentor: no one better.)

I have a familiar pride in this issue, because I wrote the notes:

In a society in love with newness, to call something “old-fashioned” may seem an insult.  Doesn’t everyone want the latest thing?  But to me that expression is another name for timeless beauty and virtue, creations that will last.  This CD is terribly “old-fashioned” and I am damned glad of it.

This music is melodic, swinging, affectionate.  It romps.  It grins.  The sounds embrace the listener; what comes out of the speaker sounds good, and that is no small thing (in Condon-terms, it is honey rather than broken glass to the ear).  Without gimmicks or jokes, the band says, “Come along with us.  We promise you a good time.”  Most of the tunes (“tunes” is another old-fashioned word, one I’d hate to lose) are medium-tempo, a little faster or slower: good for spur-of-the-moment-shoeless dancing in the kitchen.      

Captain John Royen doesn’t have that honorific only because he pilots a boat; his playing is wonderfully decisive: you know where you are at all times, and the trip is both elegant and exciting, as he steers by the lights of Ewell and Morton.  The Captain is also that reassuring evolutionary accomplishment: a two-handed orchestral pianist.  He doesn’t pound or race: you can set your clock by him.  His colleagues Pikal and Gouzy are just as reliable: they offer a limber rhythmic platform, flexible and stimulating.  Hal Smith is a master of swing and sonic variety: every note both propels and rings as he plays “for the comfort of the band.”  Finally, there’s the unequalled Kim Cusack, whose tone is lemonade in July, who creates memorable variations with lightness and fervor.  The repertoire is honorable melodies that are both venerable and fresh.  By the way, this is a band, not simply four soloists in the same room: listeners with even mildly functioning imaginations will sense these musicians smiling approval through every track.

I used to write long liner notes, supplying biography (Google made that redundant) and song origins (ditto), explaining musical nuances.  My new goal is to write notes that can be read in less than three minutes and twenty seconds, the time it took to play a 78 rpm record.  If more explanation is necessary, one of us has failed.  Not the band, I assure you.  Now, get to listening!  Joy awaits.

The other performances on the disc are I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME / SQUEEZE ME / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME / HONEY HUSH / I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU / SWEET SUBSTITUTE / HERE COMES THE BAND / OLD FASHIONED LOVE / PRETTY BABY / LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME / MONDAY DATE / BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU / SAVE IT, PRETTY MAMA / BUSH STREET SCRAMBLE / DELMAR DRAG / GREEN SWAMP.

You can purchase the CD from either Hal or John at their websites — www.neworleansjazzpiano.com or www.halsmithmusic.com — for $20 postpaid. It’s quite wonderful. You heard it here first.

May your happiness increase!

THAT “ONE-MAN RHYTHM GANG”: MARTY GROSZ THEN AND NOW (FRANK CHACE, DAN SHAPERA, 1984, and an upcoming Philadelphia performance, May 26, 2021, with DANNY TOBIAS, VINCE GIORDANO, JACK SAINT CLAIR)

Nattily attired Marty Grosz: photograph by Lynn Redmile.

I find it amazing and wonderful when my jazz heroes actually inhabit the same planet that I am on, that they are not only sounds coming out of a speaker but people I can see and hear in 2021. One such remarkably durable fellow, born in 1930, is Martin Oliver Grosz, MOG to some, Marty Grosz, guitarist, singer, banjoist, monologist, vaudeville star, writer (have you read his autobiography, IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE?).

Marty will be appearing (yes!) in concert at the Awbury Arboretum in Philadelphia, on Wednesday, May 26, from 6:30 – 8:30, with Vince Giordano, Danny Tobias, and Jack Saint Clair, all of this presented by the Barry Wahrhaftig and the Hot Club of Philadelphia: details here. Tickets here. But it’s a small venue, so I wouldn’t wait until Wednesday to attempt to get a seat.

Writing about Marty without providing evidence of his musical life-force would be mingy. So here’s a half-hour of multicolored joys from the past. It was recorded on 1/29/84, at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago: Frank Chace, clarinet; Marty Grosz, guitar and vocal; Dan Shapera, string bass. The songs are OH, SISTER, AIN’T THAT HOT? / THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU / LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS / I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (MG vocal) / SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME. Possibly recorded by Joe Boughton; details thanks to Hal Smith:

This photograph, circa 1965, has nothing to do with the particular recording. But it has Frank (nearest to the camera) and Jim Dapogny, on second cornet, and is thus priceless.

Two other things, very briefly. The wonderful string bassist heard here, Dan Shapera, is still with us. Blessings and thanks to you, Sir! And my Homeric epithet for Marty, “a one-man rhythm gang,” was the coinage of Frank Chace, who valued Marty more than words could and can say. For all the hot hi-jinks on this tape, it’s Frank’s two ballads that go right to my heart.

Enjoy the past — but get you to the Arboretum to savor the present. And the presents.

May your happiness increase!

IT’S SO GOOD: ALICE SPENCER with HAL SMITH’S OVERLAND SWING EXPRESS (CLINT BAKER, LOREN SCHOENBERG, KRIS TOKARSKI, NICK ROSSI, BILL REINHART, SAM ROCHA, HAL SMITH)

The pandemic brought us many things that we had not requested, and I will forbear listing them here. But it also brought marvelous musical surprises — our jazz heroes are resilient, and many adapted to the challenge of sewing individual creations into a swinging tapestry. You’ve seen the delightful results: musicians in different “rooms,” which might be thousands of miles away, everyone with headphones or earbuds, making delightful swing harmonies although not able to shake hands or hug. Miraculous and there’s nothing else to call it. Many of my friends have made the technological hurdles seem no more than cracks in the sidewalk, but a new and rewarding group effort has been the merging of the superb singer Alice Spencer with Hal Smith’s Overland Swing Express.

A few words about Ms. Spencer of Austin, Texas. Just as the world is full of restaurants, some producing full stomachs and happy satiety, others producing uneasiness, there are many who call themselves “singers.” Alas, only a small percentage know what it means — that it is more than being personable, chipper, good to look at, well-dressed. Singing is the most personal of the arts, with no keyboard or valves to get in the way, the singer has a message to send us, a story to tell, with only her voice, her dramatic sense, her facial expressions: no tenor saxophone to use as a big shiny prop.

Alice Spencer brings to her songs a remarkable emotional maturity that is beyond her years: put plainly, she sings like a Grownup rather than a Cute Teen.

Her voice has shadings, dark and light; she bends phrases stylishly; she lets us know that she knows what the words mean: she’s not copying famous recordings nor is she singing by rote. And her performances are both emotionally dense and light-hearted: hear her little exhalation of breath at the end of T’AIN’T GOOD — as close to a wordless “Gee, that was fun!” as anyone could create, or the way she wends her way through WHAT SHALL I DO IN THE MORNING? — which, in other hands, could have been maudlin, but when you hear her final sixteen bars and note the sign-off of a gently raised eyebrow, you know that Alice has been having a good time “being sad” and then holding it, gently, at arm’s length. Don’t miss out on the cluster of rapid-fire notes in the middle of T’AIN’T GOOD, either, navigated with accuracy and hilarious style: she might well be the Peggy Fleming of Swing Singing.

I first heard Alice on Brooks Prumo’s THIS YEAR’S KISSES, and wrote this:

And a few lines, once again, for the miracle of nature known as Alice Spencer, who takes familiar music and makes it fresh, who makes songs associated for decades with Billie Holiday into her own without warping their intent, who can be perky or melancholy with utter conviction.  She is full of surprises — many singers telegraph what they are going to do in the next four bars, but she doesn’t — although her surprises always seem like the right thing once they have landed.  I won’t compare her to other singers: rather, she has an aura like a great film actress, comfortable in many roles.  Think Joan Blondell or Jean Arthur, and you have some idea of her great personal appeal.

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It would be unkind and unfair, though, to ignore the Gents of the Ensemble: Clint Baker, trumpet; Loren Schoenberg, tenor saxophone; Kris Torkarski, piano; Bill Reinhart, guitar on MORNING and tech-alchemies; Nick Rossi, guitar on GOOD; Sam Rocha, string bass; Hal Smith, drums, leader, arranger.

Because the two tunes are associated with Fats Waller (whose birthday was yesterday) there is a jaunty bounce, a reassuring rocking motion. Clint gets hot, as is his delightful habit; Kris summons up not only Fats but that Wilson fellow c. 1938; Loren evokes 1941 Pres in the Victor studios; Bill knows his way around lovely chords; Nick provides just the right mix of enthusiasm and accuracy; Sam keeps everyone honest; Hal rocks the church.

Here’s T’AIN’T GOOD:

and the larger question, WHAT WILL I DO IN THE MORNING?:

If you have any acquaintance with the great swing traditions of the Thirties and Forties — those sessions made for the jukebox by Billie, Mildred, Midge, Teddy Grace, Fats, Lee, Maxine, Connee, Red, Wingy, Louis Prima, Bob Howard, Putney, Slim Green, and a dozen others — you will understand why I say a) I could no more watch these videos a single time and move on to something else than I could leave my sandwich half-eaten, and b) that I have received ethereal texts from John Hammond, Jack Kapp, Eli Oberstein, and Bernie Hanighen, fighting for the right to sign this band and Ms. Alice up to a long-term contract (of course for very little money, but that’s show business, as the elephants will tell you). On the more earthly level, I ask, “Where is the bright festival promoter who wants to sign the Overland Swing Express up for a weekend of gigs?” But since I know that some of them read JAZZ LIVES, I have hope.

I heard (to quote Don Redman) that Alice Spencer will be making a new digital album sometime soon. Stay tuned.

May your happiness increase!

SOME SPLENDID NEWS: THE RETURN OF THE REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL (Sept. 30 – Oct. 3, 2021)

Given the landscape we have been traveling through, when good news shows up, it’s almost a shock. So brace yourself: I have some, as spelled out in the title of this post.

The Redwood Coast Music Festival is going ahead, energetically and intelligently, for 2021.

I did not take the pandemic lightly, and I spent a good deal of last year scared to bits . . . but I’m going. And I hope you will also, if you can.

Details here — but I know you want more than just details.

Although for those who like it very plain, some elementary-school math: four days, more than a hundred sets performed at eight stages, from intimate to huge. Dance floors. And the festival is wonderfully varied, presenting every kind of “roots music” you can imagine: “jazz, swing, blues, zydeco, rockabilly, Americana, Western Swing, country.”

Off the top of my head — when I was there in 2019, I heard the music of Charlie Christian, Moon Mullican, Pee Wee Russell, Kid Ory, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Hodges, Pete Johnson, Billie Holiday, and much more. Bob Wills said howdy to Walter Donaldson, which was very sweet.

And here are some of the jazz and blues artists who will be there: Carl Sonny Leyland, Duke Robillard, Dave Stuckey, Hal Smith, Andy Schumm, Dan Barrett, Jonathan Doyle, Jacob Zimmerman, Dan Walton, Marc Caparone, Joe Goldberg, Bill Reinhart, Joshua Gouzy, Joel Patterson, Katie Cavera, Dawn Lambeth, Clint Baker, Kris Tokarski, Nate Ketner, Brian Casserly, Josh Collazo, Ryan Calloway, and two dozen other worthies whose names don’t yet appear on the site. And of course, bands — ad hoc units and working ones.

For the justifiably anxious among us, here is the RCMF’s Covid update: several things stand out. First, California has mandated that ticket sales must be in advance. And understandably, there will be fewer people allowed in any space . . . so this translates for you, dear reader, as a double incentive to buy tickets early. I know that festivals always urge attendees to do this, but you can see these are atypical reasons.

How about some musical evidence?

CASTLE ROCK, by the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet:

WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, by Dawn Lambeth and her Quartet:

REACHING FOR SOMEONE, by the Doyle-Zimmerman Sextet:

HELLO, LOLA! by Hal Smith’s SWING CENTRAL:

SAN ANTONIO ROSE, by Dave Stuckey – Hal Smith’s Western Swing All-Stars:

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, by Marc Caparone and his “Louis Armstrong All-Stars”:

If the videos don’t act as proof, my words may be superfluous. But to paraphrase Lesley Gore, “It’s my blog and I’ll write if I want to.”

I come to this festival-jazz party circuit late — both late for me and for the phenomenon — September 2004. Chautauqua, California, Connecticut, Newcastle, Westoverledingen, and others. I’ve attended a hundred of them. Meaning no offense to any festival organizer, I think Redwood Coast delivers such quality and such range that it is astonishing. I told Mark Jansen that it was the SUPERMARKET SWEEP of festivals: so much to pick up on in so short a time. And readers will understand that my range is narrow: there is much music on the list of genres above that doesn’t stir me, although it might be excellent.

However: in 2019 I came home with over 150 videos in four days of enthusiastic observation-participation. I slept as if drugged on the plane ride home. I’d been perforated by music of the finest kind.

I also need to write a few darker sentences.

There is a blessed influx of younger people — dancers, often — to music festivals like this one. But festivals are large enterprises, costly to stage and exhausting to supervise. Those of us who want to be able to see and hear live music must know that this phenomenon needs what realistic promoters call Asses in Seats.

So if you say, “Well, I’ll come in a few years when I’m retired,” that’s understandable. But Asses at Home mean that this festival, and others, might not wait for you. Grim, but true.

So I hope to see you there. There are a million reasons to stay at home. But who will come in and dust you?

May your happiness increase!

DANCE WHILE PURRING, AND THE REVERSE: HAL SMITH’S JAZZOLOGISTS (2021)

A long prelude, but with a point.

Julian Barnes has an extraordinary story in his 2005 collection THE LEMON TABLE, “A Short History of Hairdressing,” in which the narrator recounts his life as a series of haircuts.

It amuses me to offer my life in a few lines as a purchaser of recorded music:

Fifty-five years ago, when my mother went shopping in a department store, I ran off and bought a Louis Armstrong long-playing record for $2.79 plus tax.  Thirty years ago, I stopped off at Tower Records on my way home from work and bought an Arbors or a Concord CD for $16 and hid it in my briefcase so it wouldn’t be seen and cause an argument.  In the past twelve months, although I still buy music from Amazon and eBay and the musicians themselves, the music cornucopia has become Bandcamp.com, where one can hear and purchase all sorts of divinely inspired improvised music — from Bob Matthews to Brad Linde and Freddie Redd, to Gordon Au, Keenan McKenzie, Jonathan Doyle, The Vitality Five, The Dime Notes, Andrew Oliver, Michael McQuaid and two dozen more . . . and now, a wonderful addition to Hal Smith’s catalogue of inspiring music.

This isn’t a collection of howling, meowing, and hissing: no need to open the window and shout “STOP THAT!” at the feline orgy below.  Rather, it’s hot New Orleans dance music.  Hal [one of the greatest swinging drummers on the planet, and that’s no stage joke] says, of this brand-new session, “a sound somewhere between Bunk’s band (if Don Ewell had been the pianist) and the 1964 ‘Jazzology Poll Winners.'”

Filet of soul — not canned or freeze-dried.  I confess to always entering into an emotional relationship with music — those rare and delicious effusions that make me feel warmly embraced.  Hal’s new disc does that.

Here, listen.  And I believe that Bandcamp waives its fees on Friday, so the musicians get more of the hot savory pie.

The facts, ma’am (thinking of Jack Webb, if you remember):

Hal Smith (drums, leader); Clint Baker (trumpet, vocal on MY LITTLE GIRL); John Gill (trombone); Ryan Calloway (clarinet); Kris Tokarski (piano); Bill Reinhart (banjo); Katie Cavera (string bass).  YOU ALWAYS HURT THE ONE YOU LOVE / ARKANSAS BLUES / BLUE MASK STOMP / HONEY BABE / SAN SUE STRUT / BLACK CAT ON THE FENCE / BLUE FOR YOU, BUNK / MY LITTLE GIRL //

Jake Hanna said — often — “What are you waiting for the last chorus of a tune to swing?  Start swinging from the beginning!” and this band does, no matter what the tempo.  Twenty years ago, a work-colleague would say, “You ROCK!” as

Before I heard a note, I was happy with the tune list.  Occasionally I think, “If I hear one more JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH ME or PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE or SI TU VOIS MA MERE I will bang my head into the wall — don’t try this, it ruins the paint — but the avoidance of tediously overplayed songs was immediately refreshing.  Aside from the homage to Bunk Johnson’s repertoire, there are affectionate glances at Messrs. Morton, Manone, Bechet, and others.

It’s a band with New Orleans in their hearts — strong melodic improvisations, a pulsating supportive rhythm section, and a delightfully idiosyncratic front line making SOUNDS.  There is a refreshing reliance on ensemble playing, and a return to one of my favorite things: one player offering a straight but swinging melody while the other improvises around it.

I said it was warm — and warming — music.  I hear other bands full of players I admire hewing so closely to the recordings that the collective effect is technically dazzling but a little cool to the touch.  The Jazzologists know the score (pun intended) but they romp all on their own.  And they don’t fall into the reverent trap of imitating the limitations of venerable senior players.  They play.

And it’s a triumph of passion as well as technology.  Yes, it was created remotely, with players in six cities — but the groove is such that you wouldn’t know it.

Not for the first time in my adult life have I lamented the disconnect between my ears and heart (those parts that receive the music and revel in it) and my rather stiff stubborn legs.  But hearing this disc, I would happily dance around the kitchen, not caring how goofy I might look.  It’s that inspiring.

To be a good critic, one must find flaws, or so it seems.  That was hard with this session — now on its fifth playing as I write this — but I did find one thing to complain about.  I wish this had been a digital two-CD set.  Maybe in a few months (what is the feline gestation period?) there can be Kittens?

Swing, you cats! — here.

May your happiness increase!

SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE GIRLS’ SCHOOL (December 1, 1951)

Concord Academy, Concord, Mass., established 1922 for grades 9-12, enrollment less than 500 students.  Surely I don’t understand upper-class girls’ boarding schools, but it seems the last place one would find a hot jazz concert — or was it a dance? — in late 1951.  Then again, jazz was still the popular music.  Doing research on the Boston hot jazz scene of this period, I came upon this passage from a 1950 story in the Harvard Crimson about the genesis of the school’s hot band, the Crimson Stompers.  Savor this as a relic of a vanished time, please:

They went twice to Smith College (Gifford is carried away by the memory where 200 girls in sweat shirts and dungarees sat in a semicircle and shrieked for the real oldtimers like “Coal Cart Blues” (an Armstrong standby).

That, I think, is the emotional connection between Concord Academy and jazz.

One of the musicians, cornetist Johnny Windhurst, then 25, had substantial fame.  Windhurst had been the second horn in Sidney Bechet’s quintet that broadcast from the Savoy Cafe in 1945; he had returned to the Savoy in 1949 with Edmond Hall’s band that had Vic Dickenson in the front line.  In New York, he had performed with Eddie Condon, Jack Teagarden, James P. Johnson, and other notables, at Town Hall and the Stuyvesant Casino; in 1952, he would be playing regularly at Eddie Condon’s on West Third Street.  Windhurst turned down opportunities to travel, would not learn to read music, and stayed close to home until his death in 1981.  He is a glorious player, his solos arching towards the skies.

Trombonist Eddie Hubble was an early associate of Bob Wilber, a superb extension of Jack Teagarden, and by this time he had performed with Red McKenzie, Wild Bill Davison, Frank Chace, George Wein, Doc Evans, Joe Sullivan.  He, too, was heard on Boston radio broadcasts.

“Ollie” Taylor [Oliver S. Taylor, Harvard, ’53] may not have continued on with music, and his recorded career is limited to two performances linked to drummer Walt Gifford.  But he was playing alongside professionals as early as 1948.  His father was a Harvard history professor, and the Harvard hot band, the Crimson Stompers, formed and rehearsed at the Taylor house.

I know even less about the fine supportive pianist Pete Hewitt: he recorded three sides with a band led by Gifford that also had Hubble.  Where did he go after Harvard?  Walt Gifford, Harvard ’52, managed the Crimson Stompers, and he had a professional career which I can follow into the Sixties, he did not get the notice his work deserved.  (Then again, I say to myself, “Who does?”)

That Boston-and-beyond scene was flourishing: Ed Hall, Frank Chace, and Frank Newton played and recorded with iterations of the Crimson Stompers; the young woman who would become Barbara Lea — born Leacock — was both their star singer and Windhurst’s girlfriend.

I also am reasonably sure that the music was recorded by Joe Boughton, who was an early and pious Windhurst devotee [archivist? stalker?], a wonderful thing, seventy years later — although I have a half-memory of some musician writing something like, “Wherever we’d be playing, he’d show up with the damned tape recorder and it would be running.”  To my right, as I write this, I have a photograph of Windhurst on my wall, inscribed to Boughton, with surprise at a “sober Saturday”! Thank goodness we have slightly more than a half hour of the music: all “Dixieland” classics, and beautifully played: strong soaring solos, wonderful rhythm (you don’t miss a string bass), nice riffs and backgrounds.  As young as they were, they were splendidly professional.  And not to slight Ollie Taylor, it is Windhurst and Hubble who continue to astonish (they were both continuing to do so when I saw them, separately, in 1971 and 1972.)

I also don’t know anything about a school like Concord Academy and its cultural anthropology.  Was this a dance?  Did the girls get to invite their beaux?  Or was it a social event where the band played for listening?  I don’t sense a large room crowded with eager teens; in fact, it’s hard to sense an audience at all.  I wish I knew, but here’s the music.  And what music!

In Windhurst I often hear Hackett, but Bobby with almost insolent ease, fluidity and power — although it’s clear that he’s absorbed Louis and the Condon trumpet crew.  When he moves around on the cornet, there’s never any strain, as he accomplishes versions of super-Bix.  And that sound! — full and shining.  Next to him, Hubble echoes Teagarden but also the slippery power and audacity of Lou McGarity and Brad Gowans.  Taylor’s approach is slightly less assured — more Parenti than Hucko — but his earnest lyricism is sweetly appealing, and occasionally (hear the end of his chorus on ONE HOUR, where he asks himself, “What would Pee Wee do?”) he comes up with memorable phrases, although occasionally he’s not completely familiar with the song.  Hewitt is wonderfully orchestral and spare at once, summoning Stacy and streamlined stride (SAINTS is the best example); he isn’t fancy in the ensembles, but you feel him providing solidly moving chordal support.  And Gifford plays splendidly for the band, sometimes pushing the hi-hat in the best Jo Jones fashion, otherwise relying on snare and bass drum, always thinking of what the band needs at the moment in the nicest Wettling manner.  It’s a very cooperative band — players who had worked together and readily created supporting figures.  And although the repertoire is familiar as “Dixieland,” the rhythmic emphasis here is on swing: they’re playing the tunes rather than copying the hallowed recordings.  Hear how Hubble and Windhurst leap into their solos on SAINTS.

Can you tell I admire this band?

The songs are WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / IF I COULD BE WITH YOU / JADA / JAZZ ME BLUES / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / SAINTS / SUGAR (faded out):

The recording — I feel certain it’s tape or a 33 rpm acetate — has been edited to eliminate both applause and pauses between songs, and the microphone is inside the band so that we hear the musicians’ comments to each other.  Was it broadcast on the local radio station?  And the recordist turns up the right knob while Hewitt solos so that his sound isn’t lost: this isn’t an accidental “capture.”

On Facebook, I hear many young bands showing their skills — sometimes simply their enthusiasm.  I wish many of them would study this tape: it’s a model of how to play this repertoire with great expertise and passion while making it look easy, aiming for polished small-band swing rather than trying to replicate some more ancient evidence.

Enjoy the glowing sounds as well as the little mysteries that accompany them: the people who could have explained it all are gone. Think of a time when such a band could exist and play a date at a local school.  Days gone by for sure.  (I wonder whether Concord Academy has its own archives: one can dream.  I will send this post to them.)

P.S.  I invite the word-averse to skip what follows.  Between 2006 and 2020, I carried video recording equipment to gigs; with large interruptions, I had brought audio equipment from 1971 to 2006 and sometimes beyond.  Through the immense kindness of jazz benefactors John L. Fell, Bill Coverdale, Bill Gallagher, Bob Hilbert, Roy Bower, Bert Whyatt, Tom Hustad, Hal Smith, Ricky Riccardi, Sonny McGown, and others, I’ve amassed hours — years, it seems — of rare recordings, primarily on audiocassette.  Thanks to a grant from the Charles Sammut Foundation and Laura Wyman’s encouragement, I figured out how to convert those cassettes into moderately-competent YouTube videos, and I’ve been doing this for the last month.  Why?  Some of this activity is an antidote to pandemic boredom-and-loneliness, but there is also my thought that when my executors come to clean out my apartment, and they are a very hip bunch, no one has room for three or four hundred cassettes.  It pained me that if I didn’t do something about it, my tapes (for example) of Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Joe Thomas, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones, Bennie Morton . . . would never be heard.  That was intolerable to me.  So I hope you greet these audio rarities with the pleasure that I take in sharing them.

May your happiness increase!

“A WONDERFUL WAY TO START THE DAY”

It’s been a long time since I wore shoes that needed to be shined, but changes in fashion are less important than music sweetly offering hope.  This song’s optimistic bounce has always pleased me, so I am pleased to share with you the most current version, by the group calling itself THE BIG FIVE.  And I can now hear the verse, words and music . . . saying that shiny shoes are the key to success.  Were it that easy:

I will also list the credits, because they make me laugh:

The BIG FIVE Robert Young – cornet Robert Young – 1st alto saxophone Robert Young – 2nd alto saxophone Robert Young – tenor saxophone Robert Young – special arrangement Robert Young – just kidding Jeff Hamilton – piano Bill Reinhart – guitar Hal Smith – drums Clint Baker – string bass.

The source of all this pleasure is the Epiphonatic channel on YouTube, full of quiet swinging marvels.  This morning, it had 99 subscribers.  Surely JAZZ LIVES readers can add to that number.

Now, a little history.  Three versions! — by the Rhythmakers, here under Jack Bland’s name, the recording band whose output Philip Larkin and others thought a high point in the art of the last century.  Henry “Red” Allen, trumpet; Tommy Dorsey, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Happy Caldwell, tenor saxophone; Frank Froeba, piano; Eddie Condon, banjo; Jack Bland, guitar; Pops Foster, string bass; Zutty Singleton, drums; Chick Bullock, vocal.  Oct. 8, 1932.  Incidentally, admire Froeba’s playing (he’s gotten slandered because of later pop dross) and do not mock Chick Bullock, the perfect session singer — in tune, delivering melody and lyrics in a clear, friendly voice, which gave listeners the welcoming illusion that they, too, could sing on records:

a different take, where Chick sings “find”:

and a third take, a few seconds shorter since they do not perform the whole closing chorus, but at a less incendiary tempo:

and a duet of Monette Moore and Fats Waller, September 28, 1932 — a test recording that was not issued at the time:

A pity that the record company (I think it was Columbia’s predecessor, the American Record Company, then near bankruptcy) didn’t make a dozen records with Monette Moore, sweetly growling, and Fats Waller, at his relaxed best.

It also occurred to me while tracing this song that it documents a vanished time: when hot jazz and new Broadway songs were in the most effusive gratifying embrace.  That current pop hits could be swung by Pee Wee Russell for records that ordinary people bought . . . now seems a dream.  But I have the BIG FIVE to console me.

May your happiness increase!

LAGNIAPPE: HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE” JAZZ BAND (Part Three) at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: BEN POLCER, JOE GOLDBERG, CHARLIE HALLORAN, KRIS TOKARSKI, ALEX BELHAJ, JOSHUA GOUZY, HAL SMITH (May 12, 2019)

Whatever musical project Hal Smith dreams up will be melodic and swinging, and his ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND is a fine example.  I’ve posted videos from many sets this band has played — at various festivals — and here are a few more, performed on May 12, 2019, at the very gratifying Redwood Coast Music Festival.  The first part of that set is here and — as if by magic! — the second is here.  (In the amateurish candid photo below, something good is happening in the rhythm section — the usual procedure!)

Three more splendid interludes from the band — Hal, drums; Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Kris Tokarski, piano; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Ben Polcer, trumpet.

GRACE AND BEAUTY, by Kris Tokarski, Joshua Gouzy, Hal Smith:

SOMEDAY SWEETHEART:

PANAMA:

There will be more videos to come from this band at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, and I dream of a 2021 reunion there . . . .

May your happiness increase!

 

TAKE IT EASY, BUT TAKE IT: HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE” JAZZ BAND (Part Two) at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: BEN POLCER, JOE GOLDBERG, CHARLIE HALLORAN, KRIS TOKARSKI, ALEX BELHAJ, JOSHUA GOUZY, HAL SMITH (May 12, 2019)

I especially admire musicians who know that there’s no race to get There, wherever There is.  Sarah Spencer told me long ago that in New Orleans, proper tempo was a comfortable walking pace.  Of course, some jazz tunes seem to require a sprint, but an easy saunter allows melodies to float in the air.

Hal Smith knows this, and his “On the Levee” band plays danceable New Orleans jazz, inspired equally by the later Kid Ory bands and the splendid individualists who make hot and lyrical sounds right now. Along with Hal on drums, there’s Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Kris Tokarski, piano; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Charlie Halloran, trombone. Here’s a second helping of performances from a set that OTL played at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on May 12, 2019.  And if you weren’t around for the first bowl of hot gumbo, here it is.

Now, for more.  This one’s always in honor of Hal’s and my Auntie, Ida Melrose Shoufler:

“CREOLE SONG,” with “the guest mystery vocalist”:

“SISTER KATE,” or “GET OFF KATIE’S HEAD,” your preference — or  Katie’s:

and an ODJB classic that might require more vigorous leg motion:

More to come.  I look forward to the days when I (and all of us) can see ON THE LEVEE with — as I am told they say in Maryland — “our own two lookin’ eyes” and when we can gather at the Redwood Coast Music Festival — that’s September 30 to October 3, 2021.

May your happiness increase!

“LATCH ON TO THAT RHYTHM” AND OTHER SWING TREATS: MICHAEL GAMBLE AND HIS VERY SWINGING FRIENDS

Michael Gamble amid friends. How many swing stars do you recognize?

In person, bandleader-string bassist Michael Gamble is quiet and unassuming, but he really knows how to swing.  It’s a pleasure to tell you about four new digital-EP releases by his virtual groups, now available at Bandcamp. Those who like can skip the rest of this post and go directly there to listen.

They sound great, which is particularly remarkable, considering how hard the musicians have to work to make music in “isolation sessions.”

Michael explains, “All recordings from this series were made remotely, each of the 18 musicians (from 9 states) playing either in their homes, home-studios, or whatever they could make work! Despite the logistical challenges, we were determined to make an artistically cohesive and exciting project. Sections were pieced together painstakingly to make sure that no part was recorded prior to something that it needed to react creatively to, which often required multiple takes by the same musician on the same tune, spread over weeks. We believe the result — while certainly different in feel than prior Rhythm Serenaders albums which were recorded live in a single room — is a special set of recordings with their own completely unique flavor. We hope they’ll be enjoyed for years to come!”

I can swear to that last sentence.  Without a hint of museum dustiness, it is as if Michael and friends lifted me out of my chair and teleported me to splendid sessions truly happening, let us say, between 1934 and 1947.  Or, if you prefer, he came to my house and gave me a waist-high stack of perfectly recorded 16″ transcription discs of all my heroes and heroines.  Both of those science-fiction scenarios require a suspension of disbelief: all you have to do to drink at the extraordinary Fountain of Swing is to go here and buy yourself and friends holiday and early-holiday and post-holiday presents.  (Friday, December 4, by the way, is one of Bandcamp’s special days where all the proceeds go to the musicians, with no fees deducted, so it’s a wonderful time to do this.)

The musical worlds (note plural) Michael and friends live in are so spacious that each of these has its own distinctive flavor, which I will try to describe.

Volume One, LATCH ON TO THAT RHYTHM, goes like this:
Somebody Loves Me / Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise / Lester Smooths It Out / Bounce Me Brother, with a Solid Four / Did I Remember? / Joe Louis Stomp / One Never Knows, Does One? and the musicians are Laura Windley, vocals (1, 4, 5, 7); Dan Levinson, clarinet / tenor; Noah Hocker, trumpet; Jonathan Stout, acoustic and electric guitars / Chris Dawson, piano; Michael Gamble, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  The overall flavor is multi-layered, with tastes of mid-Thirties Wilson and Billie, the Gramercy Five, and a splendid infusion of 1946 Aladdin and Keynote.  Even if the references mean little to you, hear how good the band sounds on JOE LOUIS STOMP.  And listen to Laura Windley work her magic on ONE NEVER KNOWS, DOES ONE? — that rarest of compositions, a song about the magic of love balancing frail hope and deep melancholy.  (By the way, it’s a Mack Gordon-Harry Revel creation from 1936, and although everyone knows it from Billie, it’s first sung by Alice Faye in a Shirley Temple film.  Consider that.)

Volume Two, EFFERVESCENT SWING, features
A Sunbonnet Blue (and a Yellow Straw Hat) / Coquette  / Me, Myself, and I / South / Am I Blue? / Sweet Sue / Effervescent Blues / Tickle-Toe, and some of the same rascals are present: Laura Windley (1, 3, 5); Dan Levinson (tenor 1,2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8; clarinet 5; alto 8); Chloe Feoranzo  (clarinet 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8; tenor 6); David Jellema, cornet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Jonathan Stout; James Posedel, piano; Michael Gamble, Hal Smith.  The flavors — still delicious — are a little different.  Think the small-group Basie riffing of the Kansas City Six; toss with Reuss and Catlett seasonings; add some Commodore Condon rideouts; mix gently with the Charlie Christian – Benny Goodman Sextet (yes, I have those names in the right order); several tablespoons of 1938 Bobby Hackett, top with modern tailgate from Charlie Halloran, and you get the idea.  And the three songs associated with Billie — and sung gloriously by Laura — have sly arrangements that honor the period but don’t copy the records.  For one instance only, hear how the rideout of ME, MYSELF, AND I nods to LAUGHING AT LIFE, and Michael’s cross-dressing riffs that start off AM I BLUE remarkably.  So rewarding.  For musical samples, hie thyself to the Bandcamp page!

Volume Three, DIGGIN’ IN THE DEN, offers these daily specials: Good Morning Blues / Scuttlebutt / I’m Painting the Town Red / Tumble Bug / It’s Like Reaching for the Moon / Diggin’ in the Den / Honeysuckle Rose  — performed by these swing alchemists, Laura Windley (3, 5); Keenan McKenzie (clarinet / tenor); Gordon Au (trumpet); Jonathan Stout; Craig Gildner (piano); Michael Gamble; Riley Baker (drums).  Here, the recipe calls for a dark Kansas City groove (think Eddie Durham, Lips Page, Dick Wilson), with equal parts Gramercy 5 pre-bop gloss, Lady Day Vocalions (the gorgeous trumpet-tenor interplay at the start of IT’S LIKE REACHING FOR THE MOON) — all mixed together with modern ingenuity harking back to Basie and Ellington small groups but sounding fresh — even on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, which (admit it!) has been played to shreds in its various incarnations.

Volume Four THE GAMBLER, unwraps its digital box to reveal these gifts: Something to Pat Your Foot To / The Gambler / Smokey Shoulders / Sunday / Cotton Tail / Night Bloom / What’s the Fuss? / Bottoms Up.  The musicians radiating expert joy here are Laura Windley (4); Keenan McKenzie (clarinet and tenor); Jacob Zimmerman (clarinet and alto); Gordon Au; Lucian Cobb (trombone); Jonathan Stout; Chris Dawson; Michael Gamble; Josh Collazo (drums).  Here the aura is pleasantly situated between just-after-the-war sessions led by Sir Charles Thompson and Illinois Jacquet and the late-Forties Basie band.  I hear a good deal of mute work from the brass (all those not-terribly frightening snarls and growls) and glistening late-Forties electrified Reuss, with reed playing that soars and slides.  COTTON TAIL leaps over the fence likea caffeinated bunny, the originals stick in my head — always a good sign — and the last few tracks nudge so wondrously into what I’d call 1951 Clef Records territory.

If you’ve lost your way in the forest of words, the musical oasis can be found here.  I encourage you to visit there now, or December 4, or any old time.

Three things.  One is that I listened to all four discs in one sitting (a tea break between Two and Three doesn’t count) with delight, never looking at my watch.

Second, if you ever meet one of the Official Jazz Codgers who grumps, “Oh, these kids today try, but they don’t know how to swing,” I encourage you to box his ears with digital copies of this music — a wild metaphor, but you’ll figure it out — until he stops speaking nonsense.

Three, a paradox.  These are “isolation sessions,” with everyone miles apart, earbuds or headsets, praying for swing synchronicity — and that is a miracle itself.  (Ask any musician who’s participated in such rigors.)  But as I listen to this music, I feel much less alone — less isolated, to be exact.  Try it and see if you don’t feel the same way.

May your happiness increase!

AND NOW, A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR (thanks to HAL SMITH and THE SYNCOPATED TIMES, November 2020)

Your only-intermittently-Humble-Correspondent, 2012. Photograph by Marcia Salter.

I am honored by being the subject of a piece in November 2020 The Syncopated Times, whose link you can find below.  All credit goes to my friend Hal Smith — most of you know him as a percussive sparkplug, but he’s a fine intuitive journalist as well as being a great writer-archivist.  I’ve been interviewed twice before, by Andrew Sammut and Mike Zirpolo, but I was thrilled to have the email conversation with Hal that resulted in this piece.  I didn’t tell him what questions to ask: he just knew and I felt comfortable.  And the piece doesn’t start with my musical training at my mother’s knee, because it didn’t go that way.

I characterize myself as a Shy Extrovert: someone who thrives on attention in very short bursts — if the light is too bright, I run for cover.  Those who know me well might say, “Yes, Michael.  He shows up and hugs everyone and then he hides behind that camera.”  But I am very proud of this and hope you won’t mind a blogpost’s worth of muted preening.  Thanks in advance for reading.  (And if someone chose to subscribe to TST, that wouldn’t bother me at all.)  None of this would have happened without the kind enthusiasm of TST’s editor, Andy Senior, who lives the music also.

The link is here.  And there are color photographs toooooooooo! (Alas, I didn’t credit the fine photgrapher / videographer Laura Wyman for them.)

May your happiness increase!

“THINK LOVELY WONDERFUL THOUGHTS” (of NEW ORLEANS): HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE” JAZZ BAND at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: BEN POLCER, JOE GOLDBERG, CHARLIE HALLORAN, KRIS TOKARSKI, ALEX BELHAJ, JOSHUA GOUZY, HAL SMITH (Part One: May 12, 2019)

Hal Smith’s “On the Levee” band plays danceable New Orleans jazz, inspired equally by the later Kid Ory bands and the splendid individualists who make hot / lyrical sounds right now.  Along with Hal on drums, there’s Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Kris Tokarski, piano; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Charlie Halloran, trombone.  Here are the first three performances from a set that OTL played at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on May 12, 2019.  Keep absolutely still as you listen: I dare you.

COME BACK, SWEET PAPA:

BEALE STREET BLUES:

TAILGATE RAMBLE:

There will be more from this band that you haven’t seen, and I’ve presented a good deal on JAZZ LIVES: search for LEVEE and you’ll find the right spot.

In J.M. Barrie’s play of the same name, Peter Pan explains to the children how they can fly: “You just think lovely wonderful thoughts,” Peter explained, “and they lift you up in the air.”  If we all do just that, perhaps we will get to hear On the Levee again soon, and we will meet again at the Redwood-Coast-Music-Festival at the last weekend of September 2021.

I’m thinking now.  Join me in those thoughts?

May your happiness increase!

IRRESISTIBLY SWINGING: THE BROOKS PRUMO ORCHESTRA: “THIS YEAR’S KISSES”

The new CD by the Brooks Prumo Orchestra, THIS YEAR’S KISSES, is wonderfully groovy, rather like the thing you can’t stay away from, Bert Lahr’s single Lay’s potato chip.  (You can look that up on YouTube.  I’ll wait.)  By the way, I loved the BPO’s first CD, PASS THE BOUNCE (2017): read about it here.

Here‘s the Bandcamp link for KISSES, where you can see the personnel, the song titles, hear a sample, download, or purchase this CD.

The description reads: The Brooks Prumo Orchestra was made for dancing. Featuring brand new arrangements of long-lost big band tunes, original compositions, and crowd favorites, the Brooks Prumo Orchestra aims to embody a big band dance orchestra of the Swing era. Filled with world-class musicians, the band will evoke thoughts of Count Basie, Earl Hines, Andy Kirk, and Billie Holiday.

The noble members of the BPO are Alice Spencer, vocals*; Mark Gonzales, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Lauryn Gould, alto saxophone; David Jellema, cornet; Oliver Steck, cornet; Hal Smith, drums; Ryan Gould, string bass; Kris Tokarski,  piano; Brooks Prumo, guitar.

And the delicious repertoire is  CASTLE ROCK / SOMEBODY LOVES ME* / ‘T’AIN’T LIKE THAT / PEEK-A-BOO / THIS YEAR’S KISSES* / JO-JO / DON’T BE THAT WAY / ARMFUL O’ SWEETNESS* / OUT OF NOWHERE / THE THEME / WHAT’S YOUR NAME?* / BLUE LESTER / BROADWAY / I’M THRU WITH LOVE* / JEEP’S BLUES.

Those who know will see splendid associations: Al Sears, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Count Basie, Karl George, Billie Holiday, Joe Bushkin, Jo Jones, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Alex Hill, Fats Waller, Henry “Red” Allen, Dexter Gordon, Nat Cole.

Happily, the CD is very forgiving of the dance-challenged: it allows me to sit in my chair, listen, and beam.  And to give you an idea of the intense attraction I had for this CD on my first hearing I thought, “I want this CD!” and then calmed down enough to think, “You already have it.”

Listening to it again and again, I envisioned the eleven members of this orchestra as a kind of M.C. Escher drawing, people swimming blissfully in two divergent streams at once.  One could be labeled NOW, which means that the musicians here sound like themselves — and their voices are so individualistic — but they are also having a high old time splashing around in THEN, so that many of the performances have a tender connection to past recorded performances.  But there is no conscious attempt (use your Steve Martin voice) to say, “Hey! Let’s Get OLD!” — no archival stiffness.  And the familiar material, say SOMEBODY, BROADWAY, NOWHERE, is delightfully enlivened by the band’s passionate immersion in not only the notes but the emotions.

The rhythm section is fine-tuned, flexible and resourceful, four individuals playing as one; the solos are memorable; the ensemble work is both loose and graciously cohesive.  This is a band, and even if there isn’t the official BPO band bus for the one-nighters, you can hear their pleasure in working together, easy and intense.

And a few lines, once again, for the miracle of nature known as Alice Spencer, who takes familiar music and makes it fresh, who makes songs associated with Billie Holiday for decades into her own without warping their intent, who can be perky or melancholy with utter conviction.  She is full of surprises — many singers telegraph what they are going to do in the next four bars, but she doesn’t — although her surprises always seem like the right thing once they have landed.  I won’t compare her to other singers: rather, she has an aura like a great film actress, comfortable in many roles.  Think Joan Blondell or Jean Arthur, and you have some idea of her great personal appeal.

This CD is a great gift.  It’s music for dancers, music for those of us who know the originals, music for people who need joy in their lives.  THIS YEAR’S KISSES is like sunshine breaking through: a consistent delight, much appreciated.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to listen to it again.

May your happiness increase!

HAVE YOU HAD YOUR SWING TODAY?

So you took your pills this morning with your coffee and you don’t feel any different?  You walked past the bed and it said, “Come back to me until March 2021,” and you heard its call?  A good friend texted you I HAVE GREAT NEWS! and you didn’t read the message?  Do you feel like an elderly carrot at the back of the crisper?  If you were a quart of milk, would you be lumpy and sour?

Before you call your doctor to see if she can see you today, ask yourself: “Could my Swing levels be low?  Have I been neglecting a flowing 4 / 4?  Have I been reading the news far too much too early in the day?”

If so, I have the cure for you.  No co-pay, no long list of side effects, no waiting room with tape across the chairs.  Just sit still and prepare to receive the healing infusions through ears and eyes.  Several repeated immersions will be helpful.  When you find yourself moving rhythmically in your chair, the treatment will be working.

I saw this video last night on YouTube (my faithful companion) and watched it four times in a row before posting it on Facebook.  But I think it’s my moral duty as an upstanding American to share it as widely as possible.  Here’s what I wrote:

When it’s good, you know it. And what I am going to share with you is light-years better than good. It’s what Marty Grosz would call “the real breadstick”: BLUE LOU, created by HAL SMITH’S OVERLAND SWING EXPRESS. That’s Hal, drums / leader; Clint Baker, trumpet; Loren Schoenberg, tenor saxophone; Kris Tokarski, piano; Nick Rossi, guitar; Bill Reinhart, string bass. I watched it four times in succession before writing this. Now I have to stop: Jack Kapp and John Hammond are squabbling in the next room over whether the band will sign with Decca or ARC. But judge for yourself:

Are you beginning to feel better?  I know I am.

May your happiness increase!

HOW DO THEY AGE SO WELL? (WILD BILL DAVISON, TOMMY SAUNDERS, GEORGE MASSO, CHUCK HEDGES, DAVE McKENNA, MARTY GROSZ, MILT HINTON, JOHN BANY, RUSTY JONES, WAYNE JONES: “Eddie Condon Memorial Band,” Elkhart Jazz Festival, July 1988)

Sometimes a JAZZ LIVES post is the result of a record I’ve heard, a musician I’ve been thinking about, or a particular idea.  Other times, it takes a village, which I define as members of my emotional jazz-family to make something coalesce into print.  In this case, I am grateful to adopted-brothers Bernard Flegar and Mark Cantor, who may never have met in person — that’s the way my extended family works.  (I also have Brothers Hal Smith and Mike Karoub: someday we can all have Thanksgiving together!)  Others, less beloved, who acted as stimuli, are the late Andre Hodeir and a sour YouTube armchair critic who will not be named.

About a week ago, to celebrate George Wein’s 95th birthday, I posted an eighteen-minute video featuring Barney Bigard and friends playing at Nice, and you can see the video here.  Barney was 71.  He sounded beautiful.

But the first YouTube comment was a dismaying “Not Barneys finest hour ?” I gently replied that Barney couldn’t be expected to play as he had in 1940, and did take a swipe at the commenter — without correcting his punctuation, “Your comment says more about you than about him.”  His vinegary response came right back:  “I’m 83 and an avid jazz fan ; there’s a time to leave your instrument in its case if you can’t keep up ! Just like boxers who hang on too long ; singers who hung on to long ( Frank was a classic example) Barney would have agreed . Unrepentant !” Someone else chimed in to echo the unrepentant avid fellow.

I sighed and didn’t write any of the things I could have about the irony of people of 83 being ageist.  “Don’t insult my musicians!” is my credo, and I would rather hear Lester Young in Paris in 1959 than not at all.

Then, the splendid film scholar Mark Cantor and I conversed online about the French jazz critic Andre Hodeir.  I was delighted to find that I had written about Hodeir in 2011 here.  In his first book, Hodeir had rhapsodized over the “romantic imagination” of Dicky Wells as displayed in his memorable 1937 recordings.  Dicky then came to France in 1952, but he was no longer the player he had been.  Hodeir attacked him in an essay, “Why Do They Age So Badly?” stating that Wells had no reason to keep on playing, that his work no longer met Hodeir’s standards.  I saw Dicky playing splendidly in the early Seventies, but Hodeir’s criticism stung not only him but readers like myself.

Yesterday morning, the wise drummer-scholar Bernard Flegar (whose eyes are open to the good stuff) led me to something that, in the fashion of Edgar Allan Poe, had been hiding in plain sight: a video shot by Bob Byler at the 1988 Elkhart Jazz Festival, a tribute to our mutual deity Eddie Condon, two sets featuring Wild Bill Davison, Tommy Saunders, Chuck Hedges, George Masso, Marty Grosz, Dave McKenna, and (set one) Milt Hinton, Rusty Jones; (set two) John Bany, Wayne Jones — nearly two hours of extraordinary music.

Wild Bill could sometimes coast, but not here.  And he was 82 and a half.  Please consider that number for a moment.  By the standards of Hodeir and YouTube critics, he should have stopped long before.  But he’s so charged; the rest of the band, including younguns Hedges and Grosz, is also.  A viewer who looks for double chins and thinning hair will find them.  But the music — inventive, surprising, and fun — is anything but geriatric.

Bob Byler (with his devoted wife Ruth) shot many videos — some of them are cinematically flawed, but this one is fine.

Here’s the roadmap.

The first set [afternoon turning into evening, outdoors] offers leisurely swinging improvisations on LADY BE GOOD, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY (Saunders, vocal), ‘S’WONDERFUL (Bill tells a joke) I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (Marty Grosz), IF I HAD YOU (Masso and Hedges out), INDIANA (Milt, at a beautiful tempo), NOBODY ELSE BUT ME (Masso) SKYLARK (Hedges), AM I BLUE, I NEVER KNEW.

The second set [evening, indoors}: I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN (at a sweet tempo), AS LONG AS I LIVE, KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF (Masso and Hedges out), TEA FOR TWO (Masso), RUNNIN’ WILD (ending with a spectacular solo from Wayne Jones).

We listen with our ears and our hearts, not our actuarial tables, I hope.

And if anyone wants to tell me I am too old to be blogging (I started in February 2008) tell me to my face and I’ll throw my pill bottles at them.  That’ll do it.

Many thanks to the true heroes, here and elsewhere: Bill, Tommy, George, Chuck, Dave, Marty, Milt, John, Rusty, Wayne, Bernard and Mark, Hal and Mike.  Their life-force cheers me and gives me strength.

May your happiness increase!

 

YOU’LL WANT TO TAKE THEM HOME: THE OXBLOOD MELODIANS

Those who have visited my apartment would agree that it resembles as a homemade record store-yard sale.  Or a spousal nightmare.  Over there, a George Barnes lp, on that table an Eddie Miller cassette; on top of some papers, a Jimmie Rowles CD, and then there are the 78s — which, I say proudly, are in alphabetical order.  So I don’t need any more music right away.

Sorry, I was proven wrong this morning when I had a chance to hear and purchase the Oxblood Melodians’ debut CD on Bandcamp.  Listen to the first track here while you read.

I had heard of the band — rather like one of those listings in Brian Rust that you know were once recorded (Adrian Rollini, Teddy Bunn, and Frank Froeba, 1930) but you have never heard — I knew some of the musicians, but did not know that they would appear, fully-feathered, to me, this Friday, August 7.  More about that date shortly.

For now, some enticing data.  Or you can read it all for yourself here if you are a proud independent cuss who don’t take help from nobody.

We are excited to present The Oxblood Melodians. This self-titled album is the collaboration of Jonathan Doyle & David Jellema, and features many of our favorite Austinites and honorary Austinites. Our goal was to create an ensemble that evokes the New York and Chicago small groups of the mid-late 1920s, with bass saxophone in the bass role and embracing both jazz and blues traditions. The Oxblood Melodians are named in part after the oxblood lilies that grace Austin and central Texas yards in the fall (including our own). Recorded at the legendary “Dandyville” by Alex Hall in 2014, these sides have been simmering and gestating, waiting for just the right moment to be released into the world. That time is finally upon us!

Day 1 :: 4,5,6,7,10,12,14
Alice Spencer—vocals 6 & 14
David Jellema—cornet &/or clarinet
Lyon Graulty—clarinet &/or tenor saxophone
Mark Gonzales—trombone (except 7)
Westen Borghesi—tenor banjo (+vocal on 12)
Jonathan Doyle—bass saxophone
Hal Smith—drum set 4,6,12,14

Day 2 :: 1,2,3,8,9,11,13
Alice Spencer—vocals 1,2,9
Austin Smith—violin
David Jellema—cornet &/or clarinet
Lyon Graulty—clarinet &/or tenor saxophone
J.D. Pendley—guitar & tenor banjo
Jonathan Doyle—bass saxophone (+contra-alto clarinet 3 only)

1. Louis-I-An-Ia (Day 2) / (Joe Darensbourg) dir. D.Jellema

2. Oh Daddy Blues / (William Russell / Ed Herbert) arr. D.Jellema, J.D.Pendley

3. Dardanella / (Fred Fisher / Felix Bernard / Johnny S. Black) arr. D.Jellema

4. Goose Pimples / (Jo Trent / Fletcher Henderson) adpt. J.Doyle

5. New Orleans Shuffle / (Bill Whitmore) dir. D.Jellema

6. Of All the Wrongs You’ve Done to Me / (Lew Payton / Chris Smith / Edgar Dowell) dir. D.Jellema

7. Farewell Blues / (Paul Mares / Leon Roppolo / Elmer Schoebel) dir. D.Jellema

8. Cryin’ All Day / (Frank Trumbauer / Chauncey Morehouse) arr. D.Jellema

9. Don’t Give All the Lard Away / (Lockwood Lewis / Henry Clifford) adpt. J.Doyle

10. Feel the River Move / (David Jellema / Rod Jellema) dir. D.Jellema

11. Old Stack O’Lee Blues / (Sidney Bechet) dir. D.Jellema

12. Love Affairs / (Al Dubin / J. Russel Robinson) adpt. J.Doyle

13. Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams / (Ted Koehler / Billy Moll / Harry Barris) dir. D.Jellema

14. Louis-I-An-Ia (Day 1) / (Joe Darensbourg) dir. D.Jellema

Some of the repertoire will point us to “the dear boy” from Davenport, but this is both a humble tribute to him and an understanding that our heroes prize individuality the most.  So this isn’t a bunch of kids dressing up for Halloween: “I want be Bessie this year!  How come you always get to be Bessie?” “Your brother gets to be Larry Binyon this year.  I promised him.”  “Let us be.  Mom and I are going as Fats Waller.”  

Rather, what you will hear is a group of dear musical friends, exuberant and precise, who know the history and have their own songs to sing.  Too many delights to elucidate here: I’d rather you head over to Bandcamp directly.  Why the rush? Because today Bandcamp gives all the proceeds to the artists and takes no fees.  So if you haven’t been able to hear some live jazz, hear this lively version: it will make you glad.  

“Believe me,” as Alice tells us at the end of OH DADDY BLUES.

May your happiness increase!

“PEOPLE SEEMED TO LIKE IT”: A VISIT TO MRS. CHRISTIAN (Chicago, April 25, 1961)

“You have an awful good voice,” Johnny St. Cyr told Mrs. Christian, “Why don’t you do something with that voice?”

Mrs. Christian said, “Why don’t you help me do something with it?” and Johnny replied, “Well, I will.  I’ll see what I can do.”

And here’s what happened:

A few days ago, the fine reedman John Clark of the Wolverine Jazz Band sent me an information-present that I will share with you.

Eight years ago, I published a post about Lillie Delk Christian, who recorded sixteen sides with the finest musicians on the planet (Armstrong, Hines, Noone), and then seemed to vanish — here.  I was asking questions, and my friend, scholar-drummer Hal Smith, provided answers; four days later I had more answers and photographs, thanks to the splendid writer-researcher Mark Miller and Dan Morgenstern, who actually met Lillie in the 1960s: read here.

But John has topped them all by pointing out an audio interview Mrs. Christian gave on April 25, 1961. You can listen to it just below, but if you haven’t got sixty-four minutes to spare, I can offer some highlights.  Unfortunately, the interviewer stops the flow of Mrs. Christian’s story to deal with a particular hobby-horse.  Pro tip: stay quiet or say “And then what happened?” rather than intruding.  Alas. I believe the interviewer may be Samuel Charters; the later male voice is surely Mr. Christian, Charles, no relation to the guitarist.

Lillie Delk Christian 1961-04-25

The conversation takes place in the Christian house, their residence for twenty-seven years, presumably not with the same barking dog nearby.  Mrs. Christian  was born in Mobile, Alabama, and chooses not to tell her birth year; the Delk family moved to Chicago in 1915.

Her singing career started with the OKeh recordings.  Her friend, Johnny St. Cyr, heard her when they were all living at 3938 Indiana Avenue, singing around the house — without training, but it “went over all right.”  She seems to have had no public career between 1929 and 1934, and we do not find out whether she retreated from show business or that gigs dried up during the hard times of the Depression, but mentions that she toured in the summer of 1935 with Carroll Dickerson’s Orchestra and had an engagement in a club in Stockton, California.

But she cannot remember every detail the interviewer wants to know, although she recalls that she and her husband ran a “tea-house” restaurant around the corner, with the piano played by Ellington and other famous musicians.

Eventually, she sang at the Club De Lisa with reedman Dalbert Bright, drummer Jimmy Hoskins and guitarist Ike Perkins, perhaps trumpeter Guy Kelly, then Red Saunders led the band.  Another gig was at the Cotton Club, the band possibly led by Thamon Hayes.  A later stint at the Club De Lisa was with Eddie Cole (without brother Nat) and then Horace Henderson, at a club with a white orchestra in Springfield, Ohio — the Continental Club, where Lillie’s accompanist was pianist Marlow Nichols.   (All spelling errors are my fault.)

It puzzles me that the interviewer didn’t ask Mrs. Christian, “Whose idea was it for Louis to scat on TOO BUSY?”  “What was it like to record for OKeh?”  At least we get a few words about Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon, “in his highest bloom” in the Thirties.

“When my kind of singing came out, it was kind of unusual.  And the people seemed to like it.”

Mrs. Christian sounds as if she would be willing to be recorded again, but only as part of her church choir.  And for those who think of her voice as being brash and brightly-colored, it is delightful to hear her speaking voice: sweet, moderated, gently nuanced.

A glimpse, occasionally frustrating, into the world of someone legendary to us.

May your happiness increase!

LEGENDS REVISITED: THE SONS OF BIX (Manassas Jazz Festival, December 1, 1978: Tom Pletcher, Don Ingle, John Harker, Don Gibson, Russ Whitman, Dave Miller, Glenn Koch) with an APPRECIATION by DAVID JELLEMA

Of course, the Legends are Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Adrian Rollini, and their majestic colleagues.  But from this distance — can it be a little more than forty years ago? — Messrs. Pletcher, Ingle, Harker, Gibson, Whitman, Miller, and Koch are legendary as well.

I asked someone who is too young to be a legend but certainly plays like one, David Jellema, to write an appreciation of this band, this video, and Tom Pletcher, and I am delighted to present it to you.  David, whom I’ve known for more than a few years, is a world-class cornet and clarinet hero, hot and lyrical, his work intelligent and passionate, his style all his own even when he is paying tribute to the Masters who have inspired him.  At the end of this presentation, I’ll share a few videos where David shines and list a few sessions that delightfully showcase his work.

But now, to the Sons, through David’s affectionate and perceptive lens.

In the 1970s and 80s, many of the founding fathers of jazz and swing, although in their twilight years, were fortunately yet with us. It was also a great time for the second generation of jazzmen not only to be personally influenced by the ancestors, but to be mingling and collaborating to make their own unique sweet preserves of musical fruits. Bands featured at many of the revival traditional jazz festivals tapped specific, living veins of American jazz heritage.

There were a few bands on the scene that dedicated themselves to the memorialization of the legend of Bix Beiderbecke, some featured over the years at the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society jazz festival in Davenport, Iowa where Bix was born. One such specialty band, western Michigan’s “The Jackpine Savages,” formed in 1971, had the expected repertoire of traditional jazz standards and many tunes that Beiderbecke had recorded, but had the honored distinction of including leader Don Ingle (Baldwin, Michigan) on valve trombone and vocals, and Tom Pletcher (Montague, Michigan) on cornet.

Ingle’s father, Ernest ‘Red’ Ingle, played tenor sax and violin,and over his career had recorded with Ted Weems, Spike Jones Orchestra, and his own group,the Natural Seven. For an engagement in Cincinnati in May and June 1927, Red appeared on tenor sax with the Jean Goldkette Orchestra. So Don Ingle (1931-2012, who, as an infant, had been held in Bix’s own arms), inheriting his father’s music, humor, and artistic talents, was tutored on cornet by Red Nichols, on arranging by Matty Matlock, and played at Chicago’s Jazz Limited in the mid ‘60s. When he formed The Jackpine Savages in the early 1970s to play at the Lost Valley Lodge on Lake Michigan’s shore near Montague (also for various appearances locally and at aforementioned festivals), he switched to the valve trombone and hired local business-man Pletcher to play the cornet.It was just a few years later that Ingle collaborated with Chicago-based bandleader and piano player Don Gibson (Al Capone Memorial Jazz Band) in forming the Bix-style repertory band heard here, the “Sons of Bix,” whose repertoire and arrangements were primarily informed by Bix’s recordings and as well by period tunes Bix may have played.

This cornet player, Tom Pletcher (1936-2019), was fortunate to have been born to a sterling jazz trumpet player who had played in a few of the earliest jazz groups in collegiate circles. Stewart (“Stu” or “Stew”) Pletcher had friends and associates among the likes of Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Bobby Hackett, and Roy Eldridge (who had once exclaimed to young Tom sweet profanities of praise about his dad), and played professionally for Ben Pollack, Smith Ballew, Red Norvo. Young Tom had the nurturing environment of the earliest of the jazz pioneers even in his home growing up; and at 15, hearing his first Bix record, decided to take up the cornet. After formative youth years on the West Coast, adult Pletcher ended up taking over his grandfather’s decorative metal business in the White Lake, Michigan area (something his jazz musician father was not in position nor disposition to do) throughout a good deal of his life. This metal fabricator shop was a little more than 7 miles from where Ingle’s band would play at that lone restaurant overlooking Lake Michigan shores.

Pletcher’s fascination with Beiderbecke’s music led him into remarkable musical circumstances and personal associations that fueled and lent credence to his knowledge of Bix’s life and music. He corresponded with and visited the homes of the guys who had known and played with Bix. As a layman, he was diligent in seeking, and lucky in finding, not only information, facts, and stories about Bix, but even unseen pictures and a previously unheard recording, thereby to a small degree aiding in the research of Phil Evans toward two different exhaustive books about Bix. In that respect alone he deserves some credit toward the shaping of a factual account of Bix’s life beyond romantic and apocryphal mythologies and fantasies, something the dreamy jazz icon was victim to even before his tragic early death.

Pletcher’s acute intimacy with Bix’s music found its real recognition, however, in how he played a Getzen Eterna cornet(–one from 1965 that Ingle sold to him when Tom joined the Jackpines, and another large bore Eterna he bought in 1987). Certainly Pletcher had been influenced by his own father, Stu, and the musicians Stu associated with (especially Armstrong and Teagarden). Pletcher was an avid fan of Bobby Hackett, and often could deliver a solo sounding convincingly like the gentle man from Providence. He loved the recordings of Bunny Berigan, listening til the end of his life. Tom had acquired and absorbed all the lp records of Chet Baker. (Pletcher was also a keen listener, with Bix, to the music of the French Impressionist composers, Debussy, Ravel, and Delius, beautiful sounds that also influenced how he felt the music.) So a broad base of jazz (and classical) sounds made for a rich depth and diversity of the ideas that he expressed on the horn: he didn’t just play Bix’s licks or try to copy Bix. (The note-for-note tribute solo features like “Singin’ the Blues” mark the rare exception).

It was the extent to which Pletcher had absorbed and internalized technical aspects of Bix’s playing (attack and articulation, tone, vibrato, dynamics, effects and idiosyncrasies, and often, humor) without slavishly or consciously copying Beiderbecke that allowed him the acclaim among fans and musicians, contemporaneous to his generation and that of Beiderbecke’s, that he had come closest to Bix’s sound and spirit of anyone to date. All the other influences that had seasoned his playing allowed him freedom to express his own modern feel of the Bixian sound, keeping those sounds fresh.

Among musicians in the 1980s and early 1990s, he would be the first call to sit in “Bix’s chair” for a host of projects that recreated that period in repertory bands. While yet still alive, Bill Challis, the Bix-friendly arranger for the famous Jean Goldkette Orchestra and Paul Whiteman Orchestra (and the man who transcribed and published Bix’s piano compositions), joined with protégé Vince Giordano to do some newer, expanded renditions of songs from the Goldkette years, including tunes Bix had recorded and some he hadn’t. Legendary piano demi-god and musical powerhouse Dick Hyman had Pletcher featured in a 92nd Street Y concert in New York City (and subsequent CD for Arbors Records) called “If Bix Played Gershwin,” a delicious pallet of all Gershwin tunes rendered as if they had been played in some of the formats that Bix had been grouped in. (Actually, only one Gershwin song from the concert was one that Bix had recorded, “Sunny Disposish.”) An Italian film producer had Pletcher playing the Bixian lead and solos for the stellar soundtrack of a not-so-stellar film loosely based on Bix’s life called “Bix: An Interpretation of a Legend.” John Otto’s “Hotel Edison Roof Orchestra” made in two recordings the perfect setting for Pletcher’s sound: hot jazz arrangements from Jean Goldkette, California Ramblers, Ted Weems, Roger Wolfe Kahn, Sam Lanin, Frank Skinner, and more.

A word must be said about one of Pletcher’s longest standing gigs of fairly consistent personnel. Pletcher played yearly among a group of musicians who gathered to play at Princeton 50th class reunions (months of June, 1975-1981), partly to entertain alumni, but mostly to enjoy their own private ongoing reunions of musicians who were fond of Bix’s music and some who were there when Bix played at Princeton near the end of his life. Squirrel Ashcraft, Bill Priestley, Jack Howe, and other Princeton grads had continued playing music under Bix’s spell at jam sessions in the 40s, 50s, and 60s; they were joined by later Princeton grads like Ron Hockett and Doug James, and collegiate and commercial band alumni like Spencer Clark, Bud Wilson, and Bob Haggart. The music had Eddie Condon-like small group spirit and freedom, and a relaxed approach. Live recordings from these were privately issued on vinyl for the musicians, friends, and alumni. They too called themselves “Sons of Bix.” They later went into Jazzology studios to record formal lps under Haggart’s name, with arrangements on “Clementine” and “In a Mist” by Hockett. They also did a number of private parties on the east coast that carried the reunion flames forth, one among many in Vero Beach which produced a nice album of cassettes with a complete 8-page history of the various “Sons of Bix” configurations over the decades, written by Jack Howe.

The Sons of Bix that you hear in this video (originally calling themselves, tongue in cheek, “The Sons of Bix’s”) only have Pletcher in common with the Princeton Reunion Sons of Bix, although their personnel may have had associations in the Evanston, Illinois jam sessions at Squirrel’s. These SOBs had three lp albums that were released (“A Legend Revisited” on Fairmont Records;“Ostrich Walk,” “Copenhagen”both on Jazzology). One was recorded but not issued on vinyl, and only in part much later online, called “San.” They played at the popular traditional jazz festivals like San Diego, Central City, and Sacramento. They toured Europe in 1979, playing in numerous countries and at the Breda Jazz Festival. (That is no small feat for loads of luggage, many horn and drum cases, a bass sax, train schedules and coaches, plane rides, small alleys, streets, and bars, wives and my own tagging aunt and uncle..)

In their “first East Coast appearance,” introduced here by the director of the DC-area Manassas Jazz Festival, Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, the personnel consists of Glenn Koch, drums; Don Ingle, announcer, valve trombone, arranger, co-leader; Don Gibson, piano, arranger, co-leader; John Harker on clarinet and alto sax; Dave Miller, banjo and guitar; Tom Pletcher, cornet; and Russ Whitman, bass saxophone. In this video you’ll hear six songs that Beiderbecke had recorded, and one traditional tune they occasionally played.

I heard this band live for the first time at this very festival. I was a little boy, almost 14, with a bowl-cut Dutch-boy head of blonde hair and corduroy pants climbing high over white socks. I joined some of them for a brief after-hours jam session, along with another young Bix-Pletcher protégé named Ralph Norton, whose hair was slicked back and parted down the middle. (By the next time I heard them live, Ralph and I were in a cordial race to see who could part with his hair first.)Fast forward. In August 1987, I was just graduated from college, and for that summer was at my family farmhouse near Montague, Michigan (within a 12-minute walk from the Lost Valley Lodge where I first had heard the Jackpine Savages as a lad). The Sons of Bix had two appearances in the area the 8th and 9th, one at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp with guest Marian McPartland, in which she joined the band for a standard, played “In a Mist” solo, and did a haunting duet of “Stardust” with Pletcher. The next day,the SOBs were at a country club near Muskegon. Tom was playing that weekend on a brand new, large-bore Getzen Eterna, and any adjustments he needed to get used to the feel of the new horn on its maiden voyage Saturday night had been made into a crackling performance for the local jazz society the next day.

Unfortunately, life was making demands on me that did not allow me any further opportunities to hear this band live. But the lp records had to suffice, and the magic had been done on me. In either case, here was a band that liked playing together, liked the specific material they were reviving and reshaping, played with energy and cohesion, joked and giggled a lot. They had intelligent arrangements when needed, they could hug the ballads, and could fire up listeners with the standard barn-burners of the genre. Each musician was a seasoned, veteran master at his craft. Each one had remarkable personal connection to his antecedents at a time when some of those musical forebears were still alive to enjoy their own memories and these new achievements.

I have resisted a number of other opportunities herein to insert myself further into the narrative about this band and its roots, about Ingle, and especially about Pletcher. I will simply close with a note of gratitude to them for their loving treatment of their musical heroes and their influence on the younger musicians they had the chance to shape, to the two horn players that especially mentored me, to all the other musicians who play in these sounds, and finally to the historians, archivists, and documenters that have the cultivating hands in making this tree continue to grow in the shape of a musician from Davenport, Iowa.

And now, that 1978 session.  SUSIE / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / BORNEO / CARELESS LOVE / THOU SWELL / CLEMENTINE / FIDGETY FEET // Introduced by Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee: Tom Pletcher (cornet), Don Ingle (valve trombone), John Harker (clarinet), Don Gibson (piano), Russ Whitman (bass sax), Dave Miller (guitar, banjo), Glenn Koch (drums).

Back to David for a rewarding short interlude.

What could be nicer than four friends romping through a jazz evergreen: Albanie Falletta, David, Jonathan Doyle, and Jamey Cummins in 2014:

More friends, the Thrift Set Orchestra (yes, that’s Hal Smith!) in 2013, doing KRAZY KAPERS:

Many of the same rascals, plus the wonderful Alice Spencer, in 2014:

You can also hear David on the Brooks Prumo Orchestra’s THIS YEAR’S KISSES, two sessions by the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet, THE ROAD TO LEAVING and LIVE AT THE SAHARA LOUNGE, as well as FLOYD DOMINO ALL-STARS.

May your happiness increase!

“A POST-GRADUATE SEMINAR IN NEW ORLEANS CLARINET,” featuring RYAN CALLOWAY with CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND: RYAN CALLOWAY, CLINT BAKER, RILEY BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, KATIE CAVERA, BILL REINHART, JESS KING, HAL SMITH (Jazz Bash by the Bay, Monterey, California, March 7, 2020)

“Don’t be afraid,” Clint says to some audience members, timidly straggling in to this session at the Jazz Bash by the Bay, and I would echo his words.  I know that “seminar,” to some, will mean a dry academic exercise . . . heaven forbid, a lecture. But that isn’t the case here.  Clint guides us through the subject, so I don’t have to write much, but this set is a joyous exploration into music that we take for granted, and players unjustly neglected in the rush to celebrate the newest and the most photogenic.  Take your seat: the fun’s about to begin.

This dapper young man spent eight years studying Albert-system clarinet under the tutelage of Professor Baker, and you’ll hear the delicious results.  (More musical than my doctoral orals.)  Clint plays trumpet here; Riley Baker, trombone; Hal Smith, drums; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Katie Cavera, string bass; Bill Reinhart, Jess King, banjo.

JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE, for Willie Humphrey:

PERDIDO STREET BLUES, for Johnny Dodds:

ORIENTAL MAN, for Dodds and Jimmy Blythe:

JUST TELEPHONE ME, for Tom Sharpsteen and the New Orleans revival players:

WOLVERINE BLUES, for Jelly Roll Morton and his clarinetists:

ST. LOUIS BLUES, for Larry Shields and the ODJB:

BURGUNDY STREET BLUES, for George Lewis:

HIGH SOCIETY, for Alphonse Picou and all the giants who play(ed) it:

I didn’t deceive you.  That was fun, and you’ve gotten some post-graduate music and education also.  Hail Ryan Calloway and his bandmates, and Professor Baker!

May your happiness increase!

THE BLUES CAN ROCK, TOO: CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND at the JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY (Monterey, California, March 6. 2020): CLINT BAKER, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, HAL SMITH, KATIE CAVERA, RILEY BAKER, RYAN CALLOWAY, BILL REINHART, JESS KING

This band was a real treat at the March 2020 Jazz Bash by the Bay — their enthusiasm, their willingness to get dirty, their skill, their passions, and in a repertoire that went comfortably from Ellington to a Buck Clayton Jam Session to Johnny Dodds.  I’m speaking of Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, which in that weekend’s incarnation, was Clint, trumpet; Riley Baker, trombone; Ryan Calloway, clarinet; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano [for this set]; Jess King, guitar, banjo, vocal; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Katie Cavera, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  And today I want to share only one performance — because it knocked me out, as they used to say and still do — the groovy Ellington blues, with Rex Stewart certainly a co-composer, SOLID OLD MAN.  (I worry about the punctuation of that title, but you should hear the music first.)

SOLID OLD MAN is perhaps most famous as a tune that Rex, Barney Bigard, and Billy Taylor brought to Europe for their recording session with Django Reinhardt — a recording session that is completely ingrained in my heart for perhaps fifty years.  Note the more accurate composer credits!

But two postscripts.  I taught college English for a long time (a LONG time!) and I know that punctuation makes a difference.  I can see the recording supervisor at Brunswick or Master Records, after the session, saying to Ellington, “Duke, what do you call that one?” and Ellington answering in the common parlance of the time, “Solid, old man!” in the sense of “Great work!” or “I totally agree with you, my friend!” or “You and I are brothers.”  But it always has had an implicit comma, a pause, as it were.  And certainly an explicit exclamation point.  So, to me, its title is lacking and perhaps misleading: when I see SOLID OLD MAN, I think of someone over six feet, weighing over three hundred pounds, who has been collecting Social Security for years.  Perhaps a security guard at the mall.

The second postscript is not a matter of proofreading.  Last night I was on Facebook (my first error) and reading a controversy in a jazz group about who was good and who was bad (my second) that got quite acrimonious.  Facebook encourages bad-mannered excesses; I was uncharacteristically silent.  But I noted one member of the group (an amateur string player) made a snide remark about “California Dixieland,” and when a professional musician of long-standing asked him to define what he was mocking, the speaker — perhaps having more opinions than knowledge — fell silent.  Unnamed adjudicator of taste, I don’t know if you read this blog.  But if you do, I suggest you listen to SOLID OLD MAN ten or twenty times to get your perceptions straight before you opine again.  And those of us who know what’s good can simply enjoy the performance many times for its own singular beauties.

May your happiness increase!