Tag Archives: Harry Edison

“I GIVE UP!” TIMES TEN

surrender1

Is surrender capitulating to an enemy, saying “I give up.  You are stronger.” or is it an enlightened act, a realization that there are powers we can’t conquer and that the idea of conquering anything is futile?

I SURRENDER DEAR

I’ve always found I SURRENDER, DEAR — so powerfully connected to Bing Crosby — both touching and mysterious.  As Gordon Clifford’s lyrics tell us, the singer is saying, in effect, “Take me back. Here is my heart.  I give up all pretense of being distant.  I need you,” which is deeply moving, a surrender of all ego-barriers and pretense.  But I’ve never been able to figure out whether “Here, take my heart,” is  greeted with “I’d love to welcome you back,” or “No thanks, I’m full.”  Other songs hold out the possibility of reconciliation (consider IN A LITTLE SECOND-HAND STORE or WE JUST COULDN’T SAY GOODBYE) but this one ends unresolved.  It’s also one of those songs that lends itself to a variety of interpretations: both Bing and Louis in the same year, then a proliferation of tenor saxophonists, and pianists from Monk to Garner to Teddy. And (before the music starts) probably thanks to Roy Eldridge, there’s also an honored tradition of slipping into double-time.

I_Surrender_Dear_(1931_film)_advert

Here, however, are ten versions that move me.

January 1931: Bing Crosby with the Gus Arnheim Orchestra.  Note the orchestral flourishes:

Later that same year: Victor Young and the Brunswick Concert Orchestra, featuring Frank Munn, not enough of the Boswell Sisters (acting as their own concert orchestra) and a few seconds of Tommy Dorsey.  I think this was an effort to show that Paul Whiteman didn’t have a monopoly on musical extravagance, and I’ve never seen a label credit “Paraphrased by . . . “.  I also note the vocal bridge turns to 3/4, and Munn sings “are doing” rather than “were doing,” but we wait patiently for the Sisters to appear, and they do:

Imagine anyone better than Ben Webster?  Here, in 1944, with our hero Hot Lips Page:

Forward several decades: Joe Venuti, Zoot Sims, John Bunch, Milt Hinton, Bobby Rosengarden 1975:

1978 — a duet of Earl Hines and Harry Edison:

Raymond Burke, Butch Thompson, Cie Frazier in New Orleans, 1979:

and something I was privileged to witness and record, flapping fan blades and all, from February 2010 (Tamar Korn, Gordon Au, Dennis Lichtman, Marcus Milius, Debbie Kennedy):

Ray Skjelbred, Marc Caparone, Jim Buchmann, Katie Cavera, Beau Sample, Hal Smith, at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November 2014:

Nobody follows Louis.  1931:

and the majestic version from 1956:

A little tale of the powers of Surrender.  In years past, I would drive into Manhattan, my car full of perishables, and search for a parking spot.  Of course there were none.  I could feel the gelato melting; I could feel my blood pressure rising contrapuntally.  Frustrated beyond belief, I would roll down my window and ask the Parking Goddess for her help.  “I do not ask for your assistance that often, and I admit that I cannot do this on my own.  I am powerless without your help.  Will you be merciful to me?”  And I would then circle the block again and a spot would have opened up.  My theory is that such supplication works only if one is willing to surrender the ego, the facade of one’s own power.  Of course it has also been known to work for other goals, but that is an essay beyond the scope of JAZZ LIVES.

For now, surrender whole-heartedly and see what happens.

May your happiness increase!

THANK YOU, SIR CHARLES (1918-2016)

Sir Charles Trio

The news from Yoshio Toyama (from Mike Fitzgerald’s online jazz research group):

“Sir Charles Thompson left us on June 16th in Japan.

He was a very unique pianist with style in between swing and bebop, also very close to great Count Basie’s piano style. He was married to Japanese wife Makiko Thompson in 1990s, lived in Japan in 1990s and 2002 to this day. Funeral will be held in Tokyo, Japan, Higashi Kurume, by his wife Makiko Thompson and family and friends on June 21st.

He was born March 21, 1918, and he just turned 98 last March. He started as professional when he was very young, played with and admired people like Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Coleman Hawkins . . . .

He was very active in Bebop era also, and his style has lots of Bebop flavor mixed with mellow swing. He was very good golf player too.

He left so many great jazz records including “Vic Dickenson Showcase”. In Japan, he made recording with Yoshio and Keiko Toyama in late 1990s.  Had appeared in many concerts held by Toyama’s Wonderful World Jazz Foundation.  Sir Charles and Toyama stayed very close friends.

We all miss him. Yoshio and Keiko”

sircharlesthompson

Readers will know that I have worked very hard to keep this blog focused on the living thread of the music I and others love.  Were it to become a necrology (and the temptation is powerful) it would slide into being JAZZ DIES.  But I make exceptions for musicians whose emotional connection with me is powerful.  I never met Sir Charles, but he was an integral part of recordings I loved and knew by heart forty-five years ago.  Here he is in 1955 with Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones.  You could make a case that anyone would swing with those three people, but Sir Charles was consistently his own subtle swing engine: he could light up the sonic universe all by himself.

Hearing that, you can understand why Lester Young knighted him.

And — from that same period — another glorious Vanguard session featuring Vic Dickenson (the second volume, since I presume the first was a success, both musically and for its wonderful clarity of sound) on EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, where Vic and Sir Charles are joined by Shad Collins, trumpet; Ruby Braff, cornet; Ed Hall, clarinet; Steve Jordan, guitar; Walter Page, string bass; Jo Jones, drums:

That’s been one of my favorite recordings since my teens, and it continues to cheer and uplift.  But listen to Sir Charles — not only in solo, but as a wonderfully subtle ensemble player.  With a less splendid pianist (I won’t name names) these soloists would have been less able to float so gracefully.

If you measure a musician’s worth by the company (s)he keeps, Sir Charles was indeed remarkable: the pianist of choice for the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions; work with Coleman Hawkins early and late, with Charlie Parker both in the studio and on the air in Boston, with Lionel Hampton, Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet, Dexter Gordon, Buck Clayton, Danny Barker, Lucky Millinder, Shadow Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Sonny Stitt, Leo Parker, Pete Brown, J.J. Johnson, Milt Jackson, Jimmy Rushing, Earl Bostic, Ike Quebec, Buddy Tate, Paul Gonsalves, Paul Quinichette, Joe Williams, Harry Edison, Ben Webster, Eddie Condon, Jimmy Witherspoon, Bobby Hackett, Don Byas, Humphrey Lyttelton, Herbie Steward . . . and on and on.

If you want to hear more of Sir Charles, YouTube is full of musical evidence, from the 1945 sides with Bird and with Hawkins, all the way up to 2012 with Yoshio’s band (playing, among other things, RUSSIAN LULLABY) and as a speaking member of a panel — with Allan Eager and Hank Jones — talking about Charlie Parker.

But I will remember Sir Charles as the man who — in his own way and with his own sound — played a good deal like Basie, but understanding that impulse from within rather than copying him, adding in Fats, Wilson, and more advanced harmonies.  His sound, his touch, and his swing are unmistakable, and although he lived a very long life and had a long performance career, his death leaves a void in the swing universe.

I’ll let the poetic pianist Ray Skjelbred have the last word: “He was a perfect player who knew the force of silence around his notes. An inspiration to me.”

There is a silence where Sir Charles Thompson used to be.

FROM THE STUDIOS OF STATION KLZ: THE DUKE VISITS COLORADO (1942)

More on eBay from the seller “anystuffyouwant” — some remarkable photographs, all new to me.

The first — not an Ellingtonian — is the short-lived tenor saxophonist Dick Wilson, who died in late 1941, less than two weeks after his thirtieth birthday. He played and recorded with Andy Kirk, a Mary Lou Williams small group, and he can also be heard on one of Jerry Newman’s uptown recordings with Harry Edison and Count Basie.  I’ve never seen a portrait of him in action, and I recall that Billie Holiday thought he was one of the most appealing men she’d ever known.

DICK WILSON second tryThe next group of photographs shows the Ellington band — broadcasting over KLZ and in a ballroom. (I presume that they were on their way to California, but do not know if this tour pre-or-post dates JUMP FOR JOY.  However, the string bassist is Junior Raglin, not Jimmie Blanton.)

“Everybody look handsome!”


ELLINGTONIANS Colorado and an autographed portrait of the Rabbit, Mister Johnny Hodges:

HODGES Colorado

Anyone for trombones? From left, Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, Juan Tizol, Lawrence Brown, and in front, Mister Ben Webster:

BEN and TBNS Colorado

What would the Ellington band have been without stylish Sonny Greer?SONNY GREER ColoradoFinally, two people who didn’t get photographed as often as I would like. One, the utterly irreplaceable Ivie Anderson:

IVIE Colorado

The other, a master of sounds — Tricky Sam Nanton:

TRICKY SAM ColoradoI’ve heard the Ellington band of that period on recordings and live airshots for many decades now, but these photographs bring the sound even closer to me. The other photographs I’ve posted from the same seller were all autographed to “Rollie”: did (s)he take these?  All mysterious, but the evidence that remains — even when slightly damaged by dampness — is wonderfully evocative. (My post on Rollie’s photographs can be seen here.)

The seller also has been displaying pictures of the Lunceford and Hampton bands . . . wonderful finds!

May your happiness increase!

YOUNGBLOODS AND ELDER STATESMEN JOIN IN TO SWING OUT

In jazz, the Infant Prodigies become the Youngbloods, Established Heroes, and Elder Statespersons in what seems like sixty-four bars. Tempus fugit rapidly in 4 / 4!

Here are two CDs by young fellows — with the gracious assistance of a Senior Sage — that I commend to you.  The first features American brothers Peter and Will Anderson; the second UK pals Jamie Brownfield and Liam Byrne.

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Most often, Will and Pete, superb players, have been found in situations I would call lovingly retrospective — recreating the music of Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers, sitting in the reed section of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks.  But they aren’t repeater pencils; their range is both broad and deep. Their latest CD, MUSIC OF THE SOPRANO MASTERS, (Gut String Records), shows how easily and comfortably they move in expansive musical worlds. There is a great deal of swinging brotherly love on this CD (no fraternal head-cutting), and each selection seems like its own small improvised orchestral cosmos.

Another delight of this disc is the way in which the Andersons have dug into the repertoire to offer us beauties not so often played, by reedmen not always known as composers — Lucky Thompson, Roland Kirk, and the ever-energetic Bob Wilber, who is represented here by his compositions and his vibrant playing. The rhythm section of Ehud Asherie, Mike Karn, and Phil Stewart couldn’t be nicer or more attentive, and the recorded sound is a treat. Sweetly sculpted liner notes by Robert Levin complete this package . . . a present ready for any occasion.

The songs are Home Comin’ (Lucky Thompson) / A Sack Full of Soul (Roland Kirk) / Vampin’ Miss Georgia (Bob Wilber) / Caressable (Thompson) / Jazzdagen Jump (Wilber) / Bechet’s Fantasy (Sidney Bechet) / My Delight (Kirk) / Warm Inside / Haunted Melody (Thompson/Kirk) / Lou’s Blues (Wilber). It’s available in the usual places, but the best way to get it (if you can’t come to the gig) is here.

Some months ago, a friend passed along a YouTube video of youthful trumpeter Jamie Brownfield and saxophonist Liam Byrne, and I was delighted. They, too, didn’t exactly copy the past, but they swung mightily in an idiom I would call post-Lestorian with dashes of Tony Fruscella, Harry Edison, George Auld.  With the addition of guitarist Andrew Hulme, Nick Blacka, string bass, Marek Dorcik, drums, and Tom Kincaid, a special guest pianist, they sound wonderful — as if the Kansas City Six had time-traveled forward to meet Barney Kessel and Jimmy Rowles in the ether.

Their new CD is appropriately called B. B. Q. for the Brownfield // Byrne Quintet, and although they don’t perform the Hot Five classic, there is a good deal of unaffected joyous strutting on this disc.

BBQ

Here is a selection of videos (posted on trumpeter Jamie Brownfield’s blog), and here is the band’s Facebook page. The repertoire on the CD might make it seem to some listeners that the band is looking in the rear-view mirror, but their performances are fresh, personal, and lively — on Wynton’s HAPPY FEET BLUES, Liam’s own IVEY-DIVEY, and a variety of classics, each with its own sweet deep associations: TICKLE-TOE, SINGIN’ THE BLUES, BOUNCE OF THE SUGAR PLUM FAIRY, NOSTALGIA / CASBAH, WEST END BLUES, JOAO, WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS, 9:20 SPECIAL.

Jazz isn’t dead, dear readers; its hair isn’t even graying.

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ FOR SVETLANA: BOB ARTHURS / STEVE LAMATTINA

SvetlanaTheoretically, if you were to attempt to fit trumpeter Bob Arthurs into one of those categories jazz writers love so well, he would be a “cool” trumpeter.  Bob has played alongside Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Sal Mosca, Ted Brown, Warren Vache, Larry Coryell, Bucky Pizzarelli, Chuck Wayne, Tal Farlow, and many others.  He knows and likes the music of Lennie Tristano.

I can envision some of you turning over the leaf and choosing another page, to paraphrase Chaucer; others might be going to another room to, shall we say, put on a sweater.

But be calm: frigidity is not on the menu, for Bob is an appealing warm trumpeter.

He doesn’t look back to the Thirties (more to the Fifties) but his approach is gently melodic rather than a clinical exploration of extended harmonies, and although he is on good terms with sixteenth and thirty-second notes, he does not careen through a chorus in the manner of virtuosic beboppers.

In fact, when I was listening to Bob a few nights ago at Somethin’ Jazz, leading a quintet that featured the esteemed tenor saxophonist Ted Brown, it clicked into my head.  A resemblance — not an imitation, but a shading.

I know that some musicians dislike being compared to the great dead figures, and I understand that: we all, in Yeats’ words, want to be loved for ourselves alone, but I took a chance and said to Bob, “I just realized.  If Ted is Lester Young, his own version of Lester, then you are Harry Edison.  Perhaps?”  And Bob looked pleased and said I had given him a great compliment.  I meant it.  Not the beep-beep-beep self-parodying Sweets, but the agile swinger, the to-the-point melodic player whose lines had the snap of epigrams.

You will hear and see more from that evening at Somethin’ Jazz.

But I have something more tangible for JAZZ LIVES — an actual compact disc of an intimate jazz session — trumpet and guitar and two vocals — that is sweet, to the point, and very rewarding.

Without being in the least “antique” or “repertory,” Bob and guitarist Steve LaMattina create wonderful jazz that is reminiscent of a Sweets Edison – Charlie Byrd record date for Norman Granz or Carl Jefferson.  Easy, melodic, dense with feeling but not with flurries — nothing artificial.  The songs are easy medium-tempo explorations . . . but no one will doze off: HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN / ALL OF ME* / BIRKS’ WORKS / I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU* / NIGHT IN TUNISIA / LONNIE’S BLUES / STELLAR PROBE / MELANCHOLY SERENADE / SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.  Bob plays softly but with intensity (often muted) and Steve provides swinging supportive counterpoint.  And his singing on two numbers is easy, heartfelt, inventive without being showy: musicians who put down their horns often are wonderful singers (Zoot Sims walking through I CAN’T GET STARTED, for one) and Bob fits right in.

And the story behind the CD is fittingly sweet.  I’ll let Bob tell it:

The making of our new album, “Jazz for Svetlana,” was a labor of love. The guitarist Steve LaMattina and I have been playing together off and on for about ten years.  Our good friend Svetlana, who is a wonderful classical pianist, really loved hearing Steve and I play as a duo.  She also kept telling her husband Yuri how much she loved our music.  Yuri decided to give her a very special birthday present.  He called me one day and said that he would like to produce a duo album of Steve and myself.  All he wanted out of it was the first CD to give to Svetlana for her birthday.  After that he said we could promote and sell the album wherever and however we wanted.  So here we are. The CD has been well received by everyone who got an advance copy.  It was a pleasure to record, and I’m happy to say that Svetlana loved her birthday present.

A present by a loving husband to his musical wife turns out to be a substantial present to us — one that won’t be worn out in a year.

Here is Bob’s website, with the smiling fellow greeting you.  At the top left, you can click on the appropriate icon and hear some music, so you will know I am not inventing what is not there.

And here is the link to CD Baby to hear brief excerpts from the songs and — I hope — purchase the CD.

May your happiness increase.

LITTLE WONDERS at AMOEBA MUSIC (The Next Chapter)

August 14, 2012.  Amoeba Music.  1855 Haight Street, San Francisco.

Flash!  Money can’t buy happiness, but money can buy the music that creates it.

Six vinyl records = $15.14.

JOE SULLIVAN: NEW SOLOS BY AN OLD MASTER (Riverside, 1953)

RAY SKJELBRED / HAL SMITH: STOMPIN’ EM DOWN (Stomp Off, 1985)

HARRY JAMES: DOUBLE DIXIE (MGM, 1962)

BUTCH THOMPSON / MIKE DUFFY / HAL SMITH: LITTLE WONDER (Triangle Jazz, 1987)

AL “JAZZBO” COLLINS: SWINGING AT THE OPERA (Everest, 1960)

THE SAINTS AND SINNERS “CATCH FIRE” (Seeco, 1960)

Explication du texte herewith.

The Sullivan is a famous record — I believe I had the music in poorer sound on a Classics CD, but the sentimental value of this disc in its crinkly wax-paper inner sleeve was something I chose not to resist.  And Sullivan’s sweet violence at the keyboard — filling A ROOM WITH A VIEW with ferocious right-hand splashes and mad Waller right-hand tinkling ornamentations — continues to astonish.  And if that weren’t enough, the disc is NON BREAKABLE, LONG PLAYING MICROGROOVE, HI FI.  What more could I ask for?

Ray Skjelbred deserves to be mentioned in the same breath, and Hal Smith’s intuitive empathy is splendid.  All I will say about STOMPIN’ ‘EM DOWN is that the duo’s performance of LOVE ME TONIGHT is another delightful version of sweet violence, honoring Bing Crosby and Earl Hines simultaneously.

I haven’t heard a note of DOUBLE DIXIE yet, but it is an intriguing experiment: the whole James band of the time, with Willie Smith and Buddy Rich, surrounding the “Dixie Five” of James, Dick Cathcart, Eddie Miller, Matty Matlock, Ray Sims.  How could I pass up a record that had TWO DEUCES on it, and all the arrangements by Matlock?

On my most recent trip to Amoeba Berkeley, I bought a Prairie Home Companion lp featuring the Butch Thompson Trio with Red Maddock on drums — and it has been giving a great deal of pleasure, both now in the present moment and reminding me of my 1981 self, listening to PHC live and waiting for those trio sessions.  This trio recording with Butch, Mike, and Hal is going to be a treat . . . a special little pleasure was in looking at the back-cover photograph of the trio, smiling . . . and reading that the photographer was none other than our friend and wondrous singer Becky Kilgore.

For me, a little “hipsterness” goes a long way, but Al “Jazzbo” Collins always had good taste.  What could be wrong with a big band recording of melodies from famous operas — when the band includes as soloists Harry Edison, Phil Woods, and Bob Brookmeyer . . . when the rhythm section is Hank Jones, Barry Galbraith, Joe Benjamin (Milt must have had a conflict that day), and Jo Jones?  Plus Harvey Phillips and Eddie Costa, arrangements by Fred Karlin, the whole thing supervised by Raymond Scott.  Can’t beat that!

Any record by the SAINTS AND SINNERS is rare these days — a compact group co-led by Red Richards and Vic Dickenson, it featured Norm Murphy or Herman Autrey, trumpet; Joe Barifaldi or Rudy Powell, reeds, and a solid rhythm section (this issue has Barrett Deems, drums).  I remember hearing Vic play TEACH ME TONIGHT from a program Ed Beach did on the S&S and so this was a superb find.  “My heart stood still,” to quote Larry Hart.

Now, there is no hidden ideology here about the goodness of vinyl over any other medium of sound reproduction; I amnot urging anyone to buy a turntable or to begin collecting more stuff, to quote George Carlin.  But there are Wonders out there for those who seek them!

P.S.  And as an added bonus, the cheerful young woman behind the counter had family that had grown up on Long Island and had gone to the high school I had graduated from when buying records was what you did.  The young woman had made it to San Francisco by way of Brooklyn, and she had wonderful instincts: when I said, in closing, “May your happiness increase,” she answered immediately, “Thank you very much!  You, too!”

May your happiness increase.

“WELCOME TO NUTVILLE”: A BUDDY RICH DOCUMENTARY

The filmmaker Brian Morgan seems to me to be someone full of energy, creativity, and humor.  And he’s set out on a course of action that seems both logical and daring: to make an expansive documentary film that will do justice to the life and music of the remarkable jazz drummer Buddy Rich.  From every bit of evidence we have — the recordings, the interviews, the television and film appearances — Rich was not only a monumental musician but someone determined to go his own way in all things — thus a first-rate subject for a large study on both counts.  And since so many jazz legends have been documented many years after they are dead, timing is everything . . . while the people who knew and worked with Buddy are still on the planet.

Brian has one great advantage in that he has the enthusiastic commitment of Cathy Rich, Buddy’s daughter — someone blessed with some of her father’s determination.

Projects like this are no longer funded by major grants or huge Hollywood studios (we know that if one of the latter got hold of this idea, it wouldn’t resemble Buddy’s life or music at all when it was through) . . . so Brian and Cathy are asking for your help, your support, and your contribution.  Even if you can’t bankroll the project in some dramatic way, I urge you to watch the video here.  This site is accepting one-dollar donations, although I am sure they wouldn’t mind more sweeping largesse — and since just about everyone who ever sat down at a drum set since 1937 has in some way been conscious of Mr. Rich, I wish that all the drummers — professional, amateur, and people who tap on the table — would take this appeal seriously.

And as a reward for your patience and generosity, here is a seventeen-minute collection of excerpts from the 1950 film Norman Granz never saw to its completion, tentatively titled IMPROVISATION, which finds Buddy among Hank Jones, Ray Brown, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Bill Harris, Harry Edison, Flip Phillips, and Ella Fitzgerald . . . not only showing off the fast company who worked with and admired Buddy, but how wonderfully he fit into this varied presentation by musicians with very different styles:

May your happiness increase.

BUCK CLAYTON’S JAZZ WORLD

People who listen to jazz, read about it, write about it, seem to be entranced by drama.  So many of them are drawn to artists whose careers and lives are boldly delineated: the arc of early promise and a life cut short through self-destructive behavior or illness; the narrative of great achievement that tails off into stark decline.  Early Fame, Great Decline.  Clifford Brown, Charlie Parker, Jimmie Blanton, Billie Holiday, Charlie Christian, Bix Beiderbecke, Lester Young . . . the list is long.

But what of those musicians who had long careers, functioned at a high level of creativity, were undramatic in their professionalism?  They get less media attention in life and in death; their sheer reliability makes them almost shadowy figures.  (Of course, if they happen to live long lives — Doc Cheatham, Benny Waters, Eubie Blake, Hank Jones, Lionel Ferbos — then they may get a story in the paper.  But that’s another subject.)

One of the greatest trumpet players — also a wonderful composer and arranger — doesn’t get the attention he should: Buck Clayton from Parsons, Kansas, whose recordings over a thirty-year span are exceptional but not always celebrated as they should be.  Anyone familiar with the best music of that period can call to mind a dozen sessions that Buck not only plays on, but elevates: consider the dates with Basie, the Kansas City Five and Six and Seven, Billie, Mildred, Teddy and Ben, Hawkins on Keynote, Ike Quebec on Blue Note, his own dates for HRS, the Jam Sessions for Columbia and the later ones for Hank O’Neal’s Chiaroscuro label, his recordings with Mel Powell at Carnegie Hall, the Vanguard sessions, a Verve date with Harry Edison, his own small band (circa 1961), recordings with Jimmy Rushing and Ada Moore and Mae Barnes, with Earl Hines, Bill Coleman, Don Byas, Flip Phillips, Horace Henderson, Sir Charles Thompson, Charlie Parker, Ed Hall, Alex Combelle, Joe Turner, Big Joe Turner, “Jazz From A Swinging Era,” Humphrey Lyttelton, Eddie Condon, J. J. Johnson, Benny Goodman . . . and I am sure I am leaving out many sessions.

Shanghai, 1934

Even though Buck was playing jazz in Shanghai in 1934, before he came home and stopped off in Kansas City, he seems to have been a rather undramatic man for all his exploits.  He showed up on time for the gig; he could talk to the audience; he wrote excellent charts and swinging originals; he was beautifully dressed; he transcended late-in-life health problems to launch a new career as a bandleader when the trumpet no longer responded to his urgings.  How unfortunate to be so bourgeois.

I only encountered him in person once: in 1971, there was a New York Jazz Museum Christmas party (if I have this right) where he was among a large number of musicians advertised as performing.  Buck was there, not playing, but splendidly dressed and very polite to a young fan who asked for his autograph.  (A side story: the musicians who actually did play, beautifully, were Chuck Folds, Gene Ramey, and Jackie Williams.  Someone requested MISTY and Ramey, upon hearing the song title, said, quietly, “I don’t play that shit,” and leaned his bass against the wall for the next three minutes, returning when the music was more to his liking.)

I also saw Buck — perhaps in 1980 — at a Newport in New York concert possibly paying tribute to Billie, with musicians including Zoot Sims and Harry Edison — attempting to return to playing.  His beautiful tone was intact on a fairly fast SUGAR, but he was having trouble hitting the notes one could sense he was aiming for . . . heroic but painful.)

Let’s listen to Buck again.

Here are the two takes of WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS from the 1938 Kansas City Six session for Commodore — with Lester Young, Eddie Durham, Walter Page, Freddie Green, Jo Jones.  It’s hard not to focus on Lester — but it can be done. Hear Buck, golden, easeful, and lithe . . . the only trumpet player I know who approaches his sly mobility is Bill Coleman of the same period.  Like Louis, he constructs his solos logically, one phrase building on its predecessors and looking forward to the next, each one acting as a small melodic building block in a larger arching structure — melodic embellishment with a larger purpose:

Any improvising musician would say that Buck’s solo choruses are not the work of an immature musician and not easy to do; his graceful ensemble playing is the work of a master.  But it sounds so easy, as if he were singing through his horn.  And that tone!

Here he is in a 1954 session that few know of — a Mel Powell-led jam session at Carnegie Hall, with Ruby Braff, Jay Brower (trumpet), Vernon Brown, Urbie Green (trombone), Tony Scott (clarinet), Lem Davis (alto sax), Buddy Tate, Eddie Shu (tenor sax), Romeo Penque (baritone sax), Mel Powell (piano), Steve Jordan (guitar), Milt Hinton (bass), Jo Jones, Gene Krupa (drums):

Buck appears near the end –just before Gene and Jo trade phrases.  And, yes, you read that correctly.  A marvel!

Here’s Buck with Ben Webster, Vic Dickenson, Hank Jones, George Duvivier, and Jo Jones in C JAM BLUES (1959):

And after his playing days had ended, as leader / composer / arranger of his own Swing Band, captured in France (1991) on RAMPAGE IN G MINOR:

The other swingers on that stage are Gerry Dodgion, alto; James Chirillo, guitar; Joe Temperley, baritone sax; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Matt Finders, trombone; Doug Lawrence and Arthur “Babe” Clarke, tenor saxophones; Phillipe Combell, drums.; Dick Katz, piano; Dennis Irwin, bass; Bobby Pring, trombone; John Eckert, Greg Gisbert; trumpet.

Someone who hasn’t forgotten Buck Clayton is the UK bassist / writer / radio host Alyn Shipton, who has performed often with Buck’s compositions and arrangements as the Buck Clayton Legacy Band.  Here they are in this century performing Buck’s tribute to his friend and fellow brassman Humph, SIR HUMPHREY:

That band is full of people who understand Buck and his music (some of them heroes of mine): Menno Daams, Ian Smith, Adrian Fry, Alan Barnes, Matthias Seuffert, Martin Litton, Martin Wheatley, Alyn Shipton and Norman Emberson.

I would encourage anyone reading this post to go to his or her shelves and take down a recording by Buck and revel in its glories.  Milt Hinton used to have a memo pad with this heading (because of his nickname “The Judge”):”You are hereby sentenced to thirty days of listening to good music.”  If you were to explore and re-explore Buck Clayton’s jazz world, you would have more than a month of pleasure.

He never provoked controversy; I doubt he will ever have his own online forum with vigorous acrimonious discussion of the minutiae of his life . . . but he created beauty whenever he raised his trumpet, composed a melody, or led a band.

May your happiness increase.

ALTERNATIVE ENERGIES: ANDY FARBER’S SEXTET at SMALLS (May 5, 2012)

Saxophonist / composer / arranger / bandleader Andy Farber looked at me quizzically when I told him I was calling this blogpost ALTERNATIVE ENERGIES, but I’m sticking by it.

In this exhilarating session at Smalls (May 5. 2012), he casually proposed that we move the birthplace of jazz some eleven hundred  miles north and east (New Orleans to Detroit, according to Google Maps), and the energies that his Sextet generated were powerful and lovely.  Andy’s originals are meaningful — not just wanderings or new lines over very familiar chord changes.  He also gave some very pleasing attention to the compositions that his uncle, Mitchell Farber (more about him below**) — wrote for Donald Byrd.

The players were Andy, alto and tenor saxophones; Dominick Farinacci, trumpet; Vincent Gardner, trombone; Xavier Davis, piano; Michael Karn, string bass; Ali Jackson, drums.  The rhythm section was delicious — three players listening to one another and to the horns.  I reserve my highest praise for Ali Jackson, who absolutely lifted me out of my seat through his wit, animation, and enthusiasm.  Had I not been anchored to my video camera, I would have been standing and cheering.  You’ll see why (especially on RECIPROCITY).  On both horns, Andy managed to offer a neat lyricism (with Pete Brown / Ben / Rollins grittiness) but he kept reaching forward to suggest phrases that were absolutely new but once heard, entirely comfortable.  Dominick can nimbly maneuver in the manner of Clifford Brown, but I also heard Harry Edison and Clark Terry — as well as a sweet yearning pathos on PENSIVE LEANING.  I knew Vincent Gardner from his intermittent appearances with David Ostwald at Birdland, and he did occasionally reach back into his own version of J.C. Higginbotham’s insistence, but more usually he took a rhythmic or melodic phrase and turned it up and down, delighting in it, having a wonderful time playing.

It is an extraordinary band, caught live, fresh, and vigorous in what I think is an extraordinary performance.

Andy began by calling WEST OF THE PECOS, a composition by altoist Sonny Red [Kyner]:

Then he tried out a new piece — a premiere! — with a title that has variant spellings, CHOTCHKES (meaning “trivial little things,” or “gewgaws” in Yiddish) — music for a hard-bop Tevye, perhaps:

Next, the blues!  But not the ordinary kind — no, this is a thirteen-bar blues in Eb minor, written by Mitchell Farber.  I think it has a distinct Middle Eastern flavor as well — illuminated from within by Vincent’s questions and implorings:

The first set closed with another of Andy’s originals, ROUTE 9A NORTH — the road you take to get to his house, although he didn’t provide more specific directions:

When the band returned, Andy pointed them into his own SCHMOOZEFEST, whose title is, I hope, self-explanatory (with fiery drumming from Ali).  Is it my fault that the opening motive reminds me of CARNIVAL IN CAROLINE?:

Mitchell Farber named EL DORADO for the Cadillac, not the far-off land, and wrote it for Donald Byrd.  Notice Michael’s double-stopping behind Andy, and the way these soulful performances come to resemble small symphonies, with a lyrical outing from Dominick.  You’ll hear Andy say that he and the band had decided that jazz really was born in Detroit.  A new idea, but the music certainly validated it for me:

Then, an absolute high point — not just for this session but perhaps for my recent years of live jazz experience — the eighteen-minute RECIPROCITY, delightfully propelled by Ali.  Mister Jackson is joyously ebullient, not afraid to be loud, but every accent and knocking-at-the-door has meaning and pleasure surrounding it.  I was watching his face — mobile, pleased, surprised, and thought, “He’s writing the punchlines to the jokes other players in the band start.”*  What Ali and Vincent create together is marvelous, and that’s not to take anything away from a wondrous Dominick – Michael duet.  Hear and see for yourself:

And Andy closed this glorious session with his own — quite relevant — question, OLIVE OR TWIST? (I didn’t get the pun until sometime today and that’s because Ricky Riccardi pointed it out to me):

If you don’t know why I proposed ALTERNATIVE ENERGIES as a title, your assignment is to go back and listen / watch very closely one more time.  The hints are this: 1) Detroit, and 2) if there’s ever an electrical outage in New York, I’m going to call Andy and ask him to get the guys together.  Wow!

May your happiness increase.

*A few more words about my new hero, Mr. Jackson.  At the end of the second set, I caught him for a moment — he was still wearing his hand-tied neat bowtie — and said, “I’m going to write a blogpost about this and put up the videos.  What do you think of this title: ‘ALI JACKSON COULD SWING THE DEAD BUT I HOPE HE NEVER HAS TO’?  And it amused him, too.  I also said, ‘My heroes are Sidney Catlett and . . . ‘ and before I could name anyone else, he said, most enthusiastically, ‘Mine too!'”  More than any other drummer I’ve heard these days, he suggests what it might have been like to sit eight feet in front of Big Sid — which is a splendid thing.

**About Mitchell Farber, from his nephew — the brilliant player who leads this Sextet.   “Mitchell Farber is my uncle, my father’s kid brother born in 1944.  He was a jazz saxophonist in high school where he spent his summers at jazz camp with people like Randy Brecker, Dave Sanborn, and Vinnie Ruggerio (the late drummer from upstate New York who was a Philly Joe Jones disciple).  Mitch met Donald Byrd at a summer jazz camp and worked with him on and off from the mid 1960s through the late ’70s. Donald recorded two of his tunes, “Eldorado” on Blackjack BLP 4259 (1967) and “The Uptowner” BST 84319 (1969).  In the 1960s, Mitch began to lean toward composition and studied with George Russell and Nadia Boulanger at Fontainebleau.  Mitch wrote and produced albums for Jackie McLean, Red Garland, Mark Murphy, Morgana King, Richie Cole, Pepper Adams, Walter Bishop Jr., and many others.  Some of his credits may be found here.  (Ignore the credits for guitar as that is another “Mitch Farber,” a guitarist in Florida.)   Mitch began a career in TV commercial underscore and jingle writing that lasted from the early 70s through the late 80s. He also wrote and/or orchestrated film scores with no credit or the wrong credit.   In the late 1990s he began teaching music is Ridgefield CT where he’s in his last year.   He recorded on album under his own name for Muse Records in 1983.”

Obviously someone we should know!  Talent, thy name is Farber.

JOEL PRESS and SPIKE WILNER and DWAYNE CLEMONS at SMALLS (Nov. 17, 2011)

It’s always a delight when reedman Joel Press comes to town, and he proved that once again in his duets with pianist Spike Wilner at Smalls (West 10th Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) on November 17, 2011.

I’ve admired Joel’s playing for some time — first on record, then live — his soulful way of exploring a melody without being tied to familiar harmonic patterns . . . but he never loses the thread.  And although he denies this (“How could a Jewish boy from Brooklyn sound like a Southwest tenor player?”) he has deep roots not only in Lester but in Herschel and that moaning saxophone sound.

Spike was a mature player when I first heard him perhaps six years ago — lithe, swinging, witty, surprising — but now he sounds like a pianistic version of 1957 Coleman Hawkins: he knows the risks and rewards of throwing away the polite rulebook of jazz-school-piano and he often sounds like someone who has decided to let his deepest impulses guide him — without a life vest — and those impulses take him and us to wonderful surprising places.

Both players, also, have a fine sense of the past: Joel lives in 2011 but sneaks glances back at 1944 and 1956, and Spike is always playing / playing with walking tenths and stride bass patterns (as well as hilarious glances at the Swing repertoire, such as I FOUND A NEW BABY seen out of the corner of his eye).

Here are two performances — complex, surging but delicate — by this duo, a pair of masterful conversationalists who point the way for each other and for us at every turn.

A strong-willed reading of IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

An improvisation on OUT OF NOWHERE:

Spike and Joel invited trumpeter Dwayne Clemons up to join them for a leisurely look at Sonny Rollins’ BLUE SEVEN — both forward-looking and affectionately Basie-flavored.  At times I thought I was listening to Nat Cole, Illinois Jacquet, and Harry Edison time=traveled to Greenwich Village, Autumn 2011.  And that’s a compliment, even though none of the players had any desire to imitate anything:

This is one version of what improvisation is supposed to sound like!

RHYTHM IS THEIR BUSINESS: DUKE HEITGER’S SWING BAND (with BECKY KILGORE) at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011

Sometimes the best things happen when the more moderate types have gone to bed.  Here’s “Late Night Swing” from Jazz at Chautauqua (Sept. 16, 2011), featuring a hot swing band and singer in peak form.

Duke Heitger’s Swing Band featured the man himself on trumpet and vocals; Dan Barrett on trombone and arrangements; Dan Block, Scott Robinson, reeds; John Sheridan, piano and arrangements; Howard Alden, guitar; Glenn Holmes, bass; Pete Siers, drums; Becky Kilgore, vocals.  It was a twenty-first century version of the band that recorded a Fantasy CD (9684-2) which I hope you’re still able to find:

Here’s a link: http://www.amazon.com/Rhythm-Business-Duke-Heitger-Swing/dp/B00004SAZ8

But what we enjoyed at Chautauqua was more than sound coming out of speakers: catch the happy expressions on the musicians’ faces as they listened to these swinging arrangements and to Ms. Kilgore.

The set began with one of the best Thirties let’s-introduce-the-stars-in-the-band songs (courtesy of Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin, and the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra), which Duke sang, RHYTHM IS OUR BUSINESS:

Then something for Louis and for Billie, YOURS AND MINE, again with a lovely Duke vocal.  (What a fine singer he is — on his horn or his vocal chords!):

A little Ellington excursion (thanks to Cootie Williams and his Rug Cutters, Master Records, and the Irving Mills complex), the wittily-titled SWING PAN ALLEY.  Remember to open up Letter B:

More Ellington (of a romantic tendency) from Becky, JUST SQUEEZE ME:

And for those who need the etiology of Swing explained to them, here is the big hit of late 1935, THE MUSIC GOES ‘ROUND AND ‘ROUND, made perfectly clear by Becky:

Memories of the Goodman band, thanks to arranger John Sheridan, and a lilting I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU.  It’s hard to see Duke at the start, but his sound is unmistakable:

And a hot salute to Sweets, Pres, Jo, Sidney, Illinois, Gjon, Norman, and the Brothers Warner, in JAMMIN’ THE BLUES.  (Thank you, Pete Siers!):

“Business sure is swell!”

THE INSPIRING CHRIS HODGKINS

Meet the versatile and creative Cardiff, Wales-born trumpeter Chris Hodgkins.  

His music answers questions: how to make art new without abandoning the tradition; how to have one’s own voice while honoring your ancestors and colleagues. 

I first heard about Chris through the magic of Google Alerts — because someone had compared him to Ruby Braff, which is my idea of an accolade.  Then I found out that he and his musical friends had created three compact discs, PRESENT CONTINUNOUS, FUTURE CONTINUOUS, and BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL:

Just so know what the musicians look like should you encounter them on the street: to the left is bassist Alison Rayner; to the right of Chris is guitarist Max Brittain.  Click here to hear Alison Rayner’s QUEER BIRD, from PRESENT CONTINUOUS:

http://www.chrishodgkins.co.uk/album1.asp

And here’s Alison’s SWEET WILLIAM, from FUTURE CONTINUOUS:

http://www.chrishodgkins.co.uk/album2.asp

Click here to hear THE MACHINE, from BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL (where alto saxophonist Diane McLoughlin joins Chris, Alison, and Max):

http://www.chrishodgkins.co.uk/album3.asp

You’ll hear that his music is, on one hand, rooted in a Mainstream tradition: I hear Braff, Lyttelton, Buck Clayton, echoes of Horace Silver and Blue Note recordings of the Sixties, of Henry Mancini and occasionally Strayhorn . . . in a streamlined instrumentation (a trio of trumpet, guitar, and bass on two CDs, enlarged into a quartet on the third by the addition of tenor sax).  Chris himself is a singular player; his tone ranging from the silken to the edgy, his lines winding and floating over the ringing lines of Brittain’s guitar, the deep pulse of Rayner’s string bass, and on BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL they all get along nicely with the lemony alto saxophone of McLoughlin.  By the way, Chris loves the assortment of sounds and timbres that mutes give to his horn (as well as playing open) so the three discs never sounded like more of the same.   

I get a bit nervous when confronted with CDs that are all “original” compositions — whisper this: many musicians, stalwart and true, do their best composing on the bandstand, not on manuscript paper (but don’t say it too loudly) so that I was delighted to see some Kern and McHugh, Lyttelton, an Ellington blues, YOU’RE A LUCKY GUY and IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN.  Moving a little beyond the “songbook” tradition, I noted that Chris delights in a wide variety of composers and songs: Neil Sedaka’s BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO, lines by Conte Candoli, Sahib Shihab, Thad Jones, Harry Edison.  And then there are the originals — varied and lively, in many different moods and tempos.  (How could you do anything but admire a man who titles a song SWINGING AT THE COPPER BEECH?  And if you don’t get the in-joke, I’ll explain.)

BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL is a real pleasure — and I am not speaking as a still-active professor of English, but as a jazz listener.  I admire Chris’s awareness of his emotional and spiritual roots in the literary / cultural past, and his joyful audacity.  The first track on the CD, THE MACHINE, describes a stagecoach ride taken by Boswell.  Chris’s original lines fall somewhere in between the twelve-bar blues and OLE MISS, and the sound of the band perplexed me — light, airy, yet serious — until I recalled its analogue: Buck Clayton’s Big Four for HRS in 1946: trumpet, clarinet, electric guitar, and bass (Scoville Brown, Tiny Grimes, and Sid Weiss, if I recall correctly).  What follows is not exactly program music: had I lost the liner notes explaining what each composition referred to, I would have still enjoyed the music — but knowing the artistic structure underneath made this a much-more-than-usually pleasing musical travelogue, veering here and there from updated Thirties rhythm ballads to hints of Horace Silver and Hank Mobley as well as very hip film soundtracks and Sixties pop of the highest order (AUCHINLECK).  I don’t know if I would have guessed the subtext of the winding, pensive REPENT IN LEISURE (referring to Boswell’s having caught gonorrhea), but the historical / musical connection works for me.  It is great fun to listen to the music on this disc — full of feeling, subtlety, and charm — whether reading the notes at the same time or as an after-commentary.

Chris Hodgkins is a fine trumpet player, small-group leader, and composer; he has good taste in his musical friends and in the music he chooses to play.  As a professor of mine used to say over thirty years ago, “I commend him to you.”

REMEMBER! HARRY EDISON RECALLS WALTER PAGE

My friend Oran Purvis (he plays trumpet) told me this one:

One of the great thrills of my life was meeting Harry “Sweets” Edison when he appeared at a San Francisco area concert.  I was able to meet him briefly — he was very interested in the Selmer trumpet I had — and I asked him what it was like to play with the Basie band back when Lester Young, Walter Page, and Jo Jones were in the band.  Now I realize that that was kind of like asking Leonardo what painting the Mona Lisa was like, but Sweets handled the question very well:  he told me a story of being on the road with the band, which went like this:
Man, it was great, but, you know back in those days, there were no hotels for black musicians, so we had to stay in rooming houses.  Now Walter Page liked to drink, and one night he came back to this rooming house in the middle of the night and fixed himself a snack.   The next morning when we were leaving, he told the lady who owned the place, “‘Ma’am, last night I got a little hungry and I ate a can of your potted ham.”  The lady said, “I don’t have any potted ham, but someone ate up a can of my dog’s food!”  We laughed about that for a long time.”

THEIR IRRESISTIBLE STORIES

It’s taken me some time to write about Hank O’Neal’s book, THE GHOSTS OF HARLEM (Vanderbilt University Press), but admiration slowed me down.  What follows is only the smallest sample of its contents. 

Between 1985 and 2007, O’Neal (an excellent home-grown journalist who knew how to ask questions and get out of the way) interviewed forty-two jazz giants.  Some were well-known (Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Williams, Clark Terry, Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton, Illinois Jacquet, Cab Calloway, Andy Kirk, Sy Oliver, Jonah Jones, Benny Carter, Maxine Sullivan, Buddy Tate), others no less deserving but in semi-obscurity to all but jazz devotees and scholars (Al Cobbs, Ovie Alston, Gene Prince).  Almost all of O’Neal’s subjects have now died: Frank Wess, Terry, and Billy Taylor might be the sole survivors. 

Rather than ask each musician for a long autobiographical summary, O’Neal focused on their memories of Harlem.  Fascinating stories resulted, which eventually proved stronger than their grief for a way of life that they had seen vanish.  

O’Neal is also a fine photographer from the old school — Berenice Abbott was his occasionally irritable mentor — so the book has large-format photographs of its subjects, often in their homes, as well as invaulable jazz memorabilia (advertisements and posters, record labels and the like) and photographs of the buildings that now stand where the uptown clubs used to be.  I find those transformations hard to take; that Connie’s Inn is now a C-Town supermarket makes me gloomy.

But because many of the musicians had never been asked to talk about Harlem, they responded with fresh stories that were hilarious, profound, touching.  

Fats Waller’s advice to guitarist Al Casey: “Don’t ever let your head get too big because there is always that little boy around the corner that can outplay you and outdo everything you do.”

Harry Edison, recalling his mother’s economic advice: ” [When I was fourteen or fifteen] I played with a guy named Earl Hood.  I remember I had to have a tuxedo and my mother paid two dollars for it.  We played little jobs around Columbus and every time I got home my mother used to ask me, ‘How much did you make?’  I’d tell her that Mr. Hood told me I was playing for the experience, and she said, ‘To hell with experience, you might as well stay home if you’re not going to get paid.’ ”

Edison’s memory of pianist Don Lambert taunting Art Tatum at an uptown jam session: “Get up off that chair.  You can’t play, you’ve got no left hand, you’re the world’s worst piano player.”

How clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton asked Teddy Wilson for a raise: “Teddy, I think you ought to put a little yeast in the money.”

Al Cobbs, remembering what Louis Armstrong said about the crowds he drew: “Let me tell you something.  The kind of music I’m playing makes people feel good–the folks come in and they buy steaks.  But some of the things people are playing make people sad, and these folks will just sit there, drink a Coca-Cola, and stay all night.”

The record session that Nat Cole wanted to organize in California, with Illinois Jacquet: “He’d be on piano.  I’d play my horn, and Jimmy Blanton, Sid Catlett, and Charlie Christian would make up the rhythm section.  That sounded great to me.”

The book is full of stories: impatient Stuff Smith wandering out on the ledge of a tall building.  How Coleman Hawkins explained his record of BODY AND SOUL to Thelma Carpenter as musical love-making.  What Milt Hinton’s teacher said to him.  Danny Barker explaining the difference between New Orleans and New York in terms of hospitality.  Al Casey paying tribute to Teddy Bunn.  Buddy Tate remembering the last time he saw Charlie Parker alive. 

And the book comes with a compact disc of many of the giants playing (and talking) — musical history.

THE GHOSTS OF HARLEM is too cumbersome to take to the beach, but it’s a masterpiece.  To learn more about it, visit http://www.vanderbiltuniversitypress.com/books/335/the-ghosts-of-harlem, where you can see twenty beautiful sample pages.

TUESDAYS WITH CHARLIE (CARANICAS)

Charlie Caranicas, trumpet / fluegelhorn player by night, lawyer by day, is an often under-acknowledged New York jazz hero.  He can lead a “Dixieland” ensemble with power and grace, then turn around and play Monk with subtlety and deep feeling.  Or he can create jazz that both enhances the melody but doesn’t scare away the uninitiated.  I first heard him perhaps five years ago with Kevin Dorn’s band at the Cajun, and have delighted in his playing ever since.

New Yorkers have new opportunities to hear Charlie in low-key, intimate surroundings at two restaurants. 

One of them, Pane e Vino, is in Brooklyn (www.panevinony.com).  It’s located at 174 Smith Street, thirty seconds away from the F train’s Bergen Street stop.  The music begins at 8:30 PM and goes until 11, more or less.  Charlie appears there with his own trio — a guitarist and bassist, the latter often the admirable Kelly Friesen.  The trio will be there on Tuesday, May 4th, and on May 18th. 

I visited Pane e Vino a few weeks ago and was impressed by its quiet atmosphere (the trio plays near a small collection of overstuffed chairs and sofas) and cozy darkness.  (The darkness defeated every camera that I had with me, but it lent the music a lovely intimacy.)  With Charlie that night were Kelly on bass and the very fine guitarist Mark McCarron.  The trio must have felt like honoring Benny Carter, because they began their first set with a walking WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW (Charlie played his solo into a red-and-white metal derby) that showed off McCarron’s subtle chording and Kelly’s fine flexible pulse.  After a version of DINAH that began medium-fast and then went into double-time, with Charlie bowing to Louis’s 1933 Copenhagen version, the trio returned to Carter with a yearning ONLY TRUST YOUR HEART, for which Charlie picked up his fluegelhorn, filling the room with his warm, cushiony sound.  A pulsing THESE FOOLISH THINGS made me think I had gone back in time to hear Harry Edison, George VanEps, and Ray Brown — names to conjure with!  Singer Lisa Hearns sat in for a trio of Basie-infused standards, APRIL IN PARIS, CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS, and OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY. 

Wednesday morning beckoned with its chill finger, so I stayed for only the first set, but it was convincing jazz — relaxed but focused swing.  I was amused to see that Charlie’s derby doubled as a tip jar, and some of the listeners seemed to know what it was for. 

I haven’t been to Charlie’s New York City gig, but he’ll be at BOOM on Tuesday, May 11th.  It’s a restaurant / lounge in Soho, also with a trio, 8:30 until 11:30.  BOOM is at 152 Spring St., just east of West Broadway (www.boomsoho.com).  Charlie’s website is www.charliejazz.com, and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you asked to be added to his email list.  He’s worth hearing!

BASIE’S BAD BOYS: ADVENTURES IN LISTENING

In jazz, the most rewarding art combines mature technique, deep feeling, and the willingness of players and singers to become carefree children, trying new things with no censorious adults looking on.

Consider a four-song Chicago recording session that took place one day before Valentine’s Day in 1939.  In total, the results are slightly less than twelve minutes.  But what a memorable brief expression!  The players, perhaps named years later, are “Basie’s Bad Boys,” a title both accurate and inspired.  Basie played not only piano but organ (according to Jo Jones, the organ was particularly ancient, recalcitrant).

He was joined by the rest of his irreplaceable late-Thirties rhythm section: Walter Page, bass; Freddie Green, guitar; Jo Jones, drums.  Jimmy Rushing sang the blues on one number and trombonist Dan Minor accompanied him on it; trumpeters Buck Clayton and Shad Collins stood side-by-side with Lester Young, playing clarinet as well as tenor on “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” “Goin’ to Chicago,” “Live and Love Tonight,” and “Love Me Or Leave Me.”

I have occasionally been severe about John Hammond-as-mythologizer in this blog, but this session was one of his finest ideas, a worthy addition to “Jones-Smith, Inc.” and the 1940 rehearsal session that paired Goodman and Basie, Young and Christian.  The November 1936 session that produced “Shoe Shine Boy” and “Lady Be Good” was Hammond’s revenge on Decca, the company that had signed Basie to a restrictive contract, the payoff being $750, a paltry sum even in 1936 dollars.  I believe that the Basie band was just about to escape from its Decca servitude in early 1939, so this session might have been another naughty gesture on Hammond’s part – making recordings for Vocalion while the band was still under contract to Decca, sides that then could be issued once the band was free.  These sides were recorded in Chicago, in what Hammond remembered as a really terrible studio, making them impossible to issue.  Ironically, the studio was called United – and that the Basie small band certainly was on this date.

I first heard this music on a precious vinyl record issued in Sweden on the Tax label, “The Alternative Lester,” which contained, among other things, previously unissued takes of “Shoe Shine Boy,” “Dickie’s Dream,” and “Lester Leaps In,” heady stuff in the late Seventies.

Tidied up, all four sides then appeared on a two-record Columbia anthology, “Super Chief,” which had a color drawing of Basie’s smiling visage superimposed on the front of a locomotive (Basie, like Ellington, loved trains and the music they made).  This anthology also offered brilliantly idiosyncratic notes by Michael Brooks, a writer who took chances: some of his swooping metaphorical leaps are audacious.  Brooks had also interviewed Jones and other Basieites, and their recollections are priceless.

The four sides are now available on the Lester Young Mosaic box set (MD4-239), and they sound spectacular.  I had not heard them for a few years, having been separated from my copy of “Super Chief,” but they burst through the speakers.

They represent an Edenic glimpse into what the Basie band truly was – a good-natured, intense traveling jam session made up of supremely telepathic players.  For me, the great period of that band was delineated by Lester Young’s arrival and departure.  I can still marvel at individual solos recorded from 1940 onwards by Clayton, Dicky Wells, Buddy Tate. Don Byas, Vic Dickenson, that gliding rhythm section, Rushing and Helen Humes.  But the demands or expectations of the marketplace made the band outgrow itself.  What was a small group at the Reno Club in Kansas City was compelled to become a Swing Era big band – nearly doubling in size and heft.  It gained power yet lost mobility.  Some of the early Deccas show the ghost of the Reno Club band: “Panassie Stomp” and “Out the Window” come to mind.  But as arrangers came in, capable ones, and popular tunes became part of the repertoire in hopes of a hit record, the Basie band sounds like someone who has gained fifty pounds overnight.  On the 1938 radio airshots from the Famous Door (the two versions of “Indiana”) – soloists have room to invent, to play. Behind a trumpet solo, Lester creates a background, which the reeds fall in with instantaneously.  The two dozen-plus men on the stand function as a small group, musically jostling and joking.  The best recordings of the period balance soloists, the rhythm section, and spare riff backgrounds.  But as the Basie band became identified with “One O’Clock Jump” and “Jumpin’ at the Woodside,” those sliding trombones, trumpets fanning their metal derbies, saxes repeating patterns, became the norm.  What had been extemporaneous became more mechanical.  Arrangements might have been necessary as the band grew, to prevent small collisions, but no wonder Lester complained that rehearsals had become tiresome, that Vic Dickenson, legend has it, was fired for falling asleep on the stand.  The unthinkable had happened: the band had become dull.

But it had not happened yet at this session.  “I Ain’t Got Nobody” had been a favorite of both Basie and Hammond as a piano feature; on another clandestine 1938 session, Basie, Page, and Jones, strolled through that potentially lachrymose song, first as a meditative Fats Waller medium-tempo rhapsody, full of baroque excursions – a tribute to Basie’s friend and mentor.  Then, as if moving into Modern Times, away from His Master’s Voice, Basie played it in his own faster tempo, leaving spaces all along for Page and Jo to propel, to encourage.  This three-minute lesson in jazz piano history is available on the Vanguard “From Spirituals to Swing” set and the Phontastic “Lester – Amadeus” disc.

The 1939 “I Ain’t Got Nobody” from Chicago begins at the brisk tempo Basie had concluded with in 1938, yet with an unusual Basie-with-rhythm introduction: his first phrase a characteristic simple riff owing something to “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me.” I suspect that it was one of Basie’s beloved gestures, but it would have been a sly in-joke if he had been thinking of “Habit,” whose opening phrase states that the lover is addicted to the Love Object – while playing “Nobody,” whose lyrics drip lonely self-pity.  His second figure moves into an upwards chromatic run, something Basie would often use to end a number rather than begin it.  Even though Green’s guitar is deeply buried, felt rather than heard at best, the sound of the rhythm is so instantly infectious that a listener does not notice the oddity of Basie’s introduction at first.

Then he launches into the familiar melody, leaving only the most bare contours, stating the theme in widely spaced, ringing chords.  Basie casually alternates passages of embellished melody with his familiar catch-phrases: what makes this potentially threadbare style so winning is his rhythmic sense, as well as the nearly choral support the rhythm section gives, Page’s bass resounding like a reassuring heartbeat.  Even when the gesture Basie launches into (the phrase just before the bridge) is such a timeworn Waller phrase, his good humor and rhythmic delight maskits familiarity.  (Even when borrowing from Waller, Basie’s individuality is as strong as Louis’s or Bird’s: who, on hearing this, would mistake him for another pianist?)

During that bridge, I hear some talking, perhaps merely an affirmative grunt from Basie or one of the musicians?  Was Basie telling Lester that he was up next, or was Hammond directing traffic?  It’s clearly not a Fats-aside, meant to be heard, but a private nudge or reminder – teasingly audible but not decipherable, even given the clarity of the CD.  Readers with better hearing than mine — it has stumped fellow listeners! — are invited to send their conjectures for appropriate prizes.

But musicians did not give such verbal cues on record unless it was an informal session or if the take was to be scrapped.  This makes me wonder if this performance, the first one mastered that session, was originally a casual warm-up, a run-through to get a balance in this murky studio.  But I can imagine that the musicians and Hammond, at the end of this take, thought that this performance too good to discard.  Basie ends his chorus with a single repeated note, one of his trademarks (where else did Harry Edison get this ultimately irritating mannerism from?) that perhaps he used as a signal, “I’m finished.  Your turn now.”

Everything we might expect is transformed when Lester enters, not dancing in on a complex swooping tenor phrase, but announcing his presence on clarinet.  His announcement is a simple phrase followed by a rest, but it is arresting.  What strikes the listener is Lester’s particular tone.  Early in his career, he played a cheap metal clarinet – the kind of instrument students and band musicians, who marched outdoors, would have used instead of the more delicate wooden models.  And Lester’s particular sound is supposed to have been the result of this instrument.  Benny Goodman is supposed to have been so entranced with the way Lester played clarinet that he gave Lester a better one (one rebuttal to tales of Goodman’s stinginess).  This instrument was stolen some time during Lester’s stay with the band, but his colleagues say that he never played a metal clarinet on records.  But his tone, piping, narrow, almost shrill, forceful, is not like any other clarinetist’s, not Shaw, Bigard, Noone . . . .

A digression here.  While vacationing in Maine, the Beloved and I went twice to an open-air flea market, the most varied and intriguing one I ever saw.  There I saw not one but two metal clarinets for sale, and nearly succumbed to their lure.  Visible rust kept me from even inquiring the price.  If I could have been sure that a metal clarinet would enable me to approach Lester’s sound(s), I would have bought one happily.  But I remembered a conversation with a musician in his eighties, who said that everyone who plays an instrument inevitably sounds different, because of the shape of one’s skull and the cavities within it govern what happens when a player buzzes into a metal mouthpiece or makes the reed vibrate.  That anyone could sound like anyone else would be miraculous, and that someone like Paul Quinichette succeeded so well in copying aspects of Lester’s tone is remarkable rather than deplorable.

But back to Lester.  we hear that tone first, then his eloquent use of space, one tumbling phrase separated from the next by breathing-pauses.  Although his range is consciously limited (most clarinetists cannot resist the temptation to fill the air with ornamental notes that show off technique but destroy potential architecture) and his note choices restrained, he is bobbing and weaving over the background.  What we hear is greatly influenced by Basie’s spareness, translated into Lester’s vocabulary, sensibility, and instrument.

That background is both plain and propulsive: the muted trumpets of Clayton (left) and Collins (right)  doing four doo-wahs in succession behind him.  No doubt that phrase was a familiar one for jazz players well before Ellington popularized it in capital letters as part of the lyrics and music of the 1932 “It Don’t Mean A Thing.”  But one doesn’t notice its familiarity because it fits so well.  A listener senses only that something dynamic and irresistible has taken place, as the texture of the rhythm section (Basie’s treble line, Page’s steady tread, the whish of Jones’s hi-hat) has suddenly exploded into a much more richly textured sound, Lester’s thin, penetrating line undulating over the deeper, half-muffled choral punctuations of the horns.  Basie’s chorus was anything but monochromatic, but when the horns enter, color explodes in the listener’s consciousness.

And the dynamic contrast is not only strong but unexpected: often, recordings began with the piano or the rhythm section, then went to a chorus of a soloist over that rhythm, then (and only then) was the soloist joined by other horns in support.  Because of the time limitations of the 78 rpm record, everything seems telescoped: not overly fast, but moving at top speed with no time for elaborate transitions between one kind of display and the next.  As was common practice, the trumpets laid out during the bridge, their absence letting us hear the dry slap of Jo Jones’s wire brushes on his snare drum.  (In my mind’s eye, I see him, even late in life, boisterous, grinning, wrists and elbows in motion.) Lester remembered his childhood in New Orleans with affection, and here he offers his own version of the clarinet’s traditional place in the ensemble, dancing in arcs of notes over the brass.  The remainder of his solo, its balance between a bridge made up mostly of passages of repeated notes, the upward arpeggios that bookend that bridge (their highest note verging on the shrill) — could be committed to memory, genuinely his, simple yet inevitable.  And its tonal variations, so different from what a “better” clarinet player might have offered, and so much more rewarding. Another clarinet player might have worked up to a high note, a dazzling technical flurry to conclude his solo; Lester, making way for the next player, winds down into a sweet decrescendo, a musing figure, generously bowing out as if to prepare the way.

When he concludes, the transition is seamless and wondrous.  From clarinet-backed-by-trumpets, we have Buck backed by Lester and Shad, the two of them using another simple Swing Era convention that develops the earlier backing riff but doesn’t repeat it.  (This was the glory of the Basie “Kansas City” style that other orchestras tried to imitate but failed at, choosing instead to repeat the same riff for chorus after chorus.)  This figure seems an orchestral transcription of one of Basie’s favorite triplet figures.

In some ways, what one realizes in this performance is the strength and pervasive durability of Basie’s personality.  Although he was a modest, reticent man, his artistic identity was so strong that his soloists seem to share his most characteristic thoughts, shapes, and utterances, as he is drawing upon theirs.  This record is of course the triumph of individualists, having their instantly recognizable time to say their piece, but it is also the triumph of a completely integrated artistic community, where ideas have become generously-shared communal property.  And the two kinds of expression balance.  Soloists step forward, testify, and then take their place in the congregation so that the next person can speak.

Clayton’s solo is another triumph of what Louis called “tonation and phrasing,” Buck’s sound, his way of attacking his notes.  Like Lester, he announces himself – his choice being a punchy, staccato phrase reminiscent of the spare closing riffs of “Every Tub.”  Although the trumpet style of the late Thirties was often commanding, insisting, Clayton’s sound (his horn cup-muted as it often was) asks rather than demands, hitting some notes precisely, bending and slurring others.  But his originality is paramount.  Even when he fills his second phrase with one of the oldest motifs in jazz, a direct reference to Bolden’s “funky butt, funky butt, take it away,” the borrowing does not intrude.  The listener, again, doesn’t think, “Oh, that old thing?” because the notes tumble on, one of Clayton’s talents being in rhythmic placement, instinctively knowing how many notes would fit neatly in a scalar phrase.  His solo is not made of a series of ascents, but a progression of descending phrases, somewhere between Bill Robinson dancing down the stairs and a waiter with a full tray of dishes making his way, carefully but rapidly.  And Buck seems to improvise on his own ideas: the beginning of his bridge contains a clearly articulated descending figure, which he later turns into a half-comedic slide down an imagined slope.  At times, the solo uses repeated notes (not as Lester did) in a way that players like Muggsy Spanier would flatten into predictable pounding of simple ideas.  What makes Clayton’s work pleasing is his vocalized tone, his rhythmic subtleties.  And, as Basie had signaled the end of his solo by playing with one note, Clayton earnestly turns the same figure over and over as his thirty-two bars come to a close.

On a more predictable recording, with everyone given a turn, the next soloist would have been Collins, but that would have courted the monotony of one trumpet following another.  What comes next is a brilliant offering, something that didn’t happen often: Lester coming back for another solo, this time on tenor.  (It happens on the Kansas City Six recording of “Them There Eyes” and on the Glenn Hardman session, on “China Boy” and perhaps elsewhere.)  With feline grace, Lester doesn’t “leap in” immediately, but there is the pause of a short breath, the silence heightening our expectations: what will happen next?  And instead of a horn or horns backing him, there is only the rhythm section – but Basie has become his own orchestra, his simple bell-like rhythmic figures (new ones this time) urging Lester on.  Behind him, one must marvel at the supple, pulsing time that Jo, Walter, and Freddie grant – a rhythmic wave that could sustain a weaker soloist and push a strong one to creative heights.  Again, in Lester’s solo, one hears those arpeggios, up and down, his turning melodic lines into a blues.  This second solo seems to encapsulate all of his style.  It could be sung; it is full of unexpected pauses; it has its own wandering yet logical shape.  On tenor, he purrs, cajoles in a more mellow way.  I would love to hear his two solos on this recording played simultaneously, Lester as one-man band, playing counterpoint with himself.  I’d be nearly as happy to see the two solos notated in parallel, to see their shapes over the same chords.  Until then, I will simply play this record over and over.

Records made for issue on the expected 10″ 78 discs were planned to be somewhere between three and three-and-a-half minutes long.  Studios had clocks, but experienced musicians had to know how many choruses could fit at a particular tempo.  After Lester’s chorus, one way to conclude the record – with time for one chorus – would have been a collective improvisation, or a riff beneath another soloist leading to a final four bars of jamming.  (Think of the Holiday-Wilson “What A Little Moonlight Can Do” and how it ends, for instance.)  This record’s final chorus is an egalitarian one, audibly something worked out in progress, which completes the circle that records were.  In the first instance, Clayton’s chorus came between Lester’s two solos, affording him time to put down his clarinet and clip his tenor on to his neck strap – something that big-band reed players were expected to do with ease, even in the middle of an arrangement, although photographs show them having stands for their instruments on the job.  However, after Lester’s tenor chorus is concluded, there is a brief space, not quite strictly delineated, where all one hears is Basie responding with punctuations to the initial two-trumpet riff, Jones’s accents moving the music along.  It takes Lester four bars, more or less, to get his clarinet into play, and then we hear him begin to dance over the background again.  The listener who is prepared for another clarinet-with-rhythm bridge is in for a surprise, as that bridge is given over to trumpeter Shad Collins, a new member of the band whose style came out of the same roots as Clayton’s – but one would never mistake one for the other.  Jo Jones said that Shad made each note pop out as if he were making spitballs, but there is more to his style than a simple percussive attack.  As Clayton’s tone is beseeching, fragile, Collins’s tone is nearly derisive, needling, a buzzing that is, in some way, insect-like.  Yes, there is a stylized bit of Armstrong declaration, but also the teasing sonic play of Rex Stewart.  His solo goes by so fast but deserves a rehearing.  And, in the last eight bars, everything coalesces precisely because the band seems willing to go on forever, happily unchecked – Lester singing his wry song over the trumpets, Basie commenting and urging everyone on, and the rhythm pulsing without strain or exhaustion.  Everyone pedals happily off into some imagined swing paradise.

Ezra Pound, always writing manifestoes, had a simple one: MAKE IT NEW.  This 2:55 of recorded time is a true embodiment of that principle.  Take ideas going back to Economy Hall and make them ardent, emotionally strong, by blending individuality and community.  Synthesize without ever seeming synthetic.  All this in a badly-designed recording studio in Chicago one day in February nearly seventy years ago.

The other three sides will reveal their beauties with repeated listening, but I will suggest only these.  The sound that Basie got from the organ on “Goin’ to Chicago,” his familiar piano gestures transfigured by that instrument, and the beautiful depth of Page’s bass.  The way Basie and Jo accompany Clayton’s lovely open blues chorus; the sound of Lester’s clarinet behind Jimmy Rushing’s voice, veering in 1939 between entreaty and delicacy; Dan Minor’s plainer version of Dicky Wells’s familiar phrases behind Jimmy, and Shad’s commentary, which gives way to another rocking episode of Lester, on clarinet, riffing over the two trumpets in what was the simplest of blues riffs.  (Where was Dicky?  Had he misbehaved, or was Minor finally being given a chance to have a solo – a mere twelve bars of traditional blues accompaniment?  Hammond must have approved of Minor’s playing, because Minor stands alongside Bechet, Ladnier, James P. Johnson, Page, and Jo – some band! – on the 1938 Spirituals to Swing concert.)  On “Live and Love Tonight,” a 1934 movie song – recorded by the Ellington band and who else in a jazz context, and whose choice was it? – Basie’s organ introduction is melodramatic, suggesting the Saturday afternoon matinee at the Bijou, his volume nearly overwhelming the microphone, before it settles down into a marvelous Clayton melodic statement.  Listeners who don’t quite understand the reverence musicians had for Basie might listen closely to his accompaniment – on a bulky and balky instrument – behind Clayton.  It is a graduate seminar on how to guide, cheer, and raise a soloist and the band.  And Basie’s solo chorus that follows is anything but a solo – in fact, the soloists who should get our attention are Page and Jones.  February in Chicago might have been brutal, for someone coughs quietly during that bridge, too.  And the Waller-Basie trill that he can’t help inserting near the end of the chorus is hilarious: given the bulk of the organ’s sound, it is like Oliver Hardy on point, executing a pirouette.  Lester’s chorus is emotionally and rhythmically moving, apparently a series of easy ascents and descents through the chorus – but his tone is earnest and unfulfilled, as if whatever request he was making was, he knew, not going to be granted.  The ending is more pious than one might have expected, but I suspect it was a combination of time running out and no one having anything to say after Lester’s exposition.  Jo Jones said of “Love Me Or Leave Me,” happily, that he could be heard now, which is true, and we hear him closing his hi-hat cymbals decisively rather than keeping them part open, but the sound is crisp, especially considering the murk which dominated the previous three sides.  This version of Donaldson’s edgy lament predates “Dickie’s Dream,” but it suggests that these chord changes were meat and drink to this Basie band much as “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” also by Donaldson, pared down to “Moten Swing,” was for the 1932 band on into 1937 or so, as broadcast openings and closings show.  This, one feels, is what the band must have sounded like when everyone was fully warmed up: hear how Clayton manages to turn a phrase over and over in the middle of his solo, how Lester dances in to his, followed by a full Collins chorus, and then an abbreviated chorus, the sound of a band running out of time.  This recording – a simple series of solos over rhythm with a get-it-all-in final sixteen bars – is a banquet, even though it leaves us wanting more.

Artists at play, blessedly and brilliantly.

POSTSCRIPT: Both Dan Block and Doug Pomeroy, whose opinions I trust, feel that Lester was probably playing a metal clarinet on the 1938 Kansas City Six recordings.

THE ELUSIVE FRANK NEWTON

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the remarkable jazz trumpeter Frank Newton in the last few weeks, even before having the opportunity to repost this picture of him (originally on JazzWax) — taken in Boston, in the late Forties, with George Wein and Joe Palermino. 

Jazz is full of players who say something to us across the years, their instrumental voices resounding through the murk and scrape of old records.  Some players seem to have led full artistic lives: Hawkins, Wilson, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Bob Wilber come to mind at the head of a long list.  Others, equally worthy, have had shorter lives or thwarted careers.   Bix, Bird, Brownie, to alliterate, among a hundred others.  And all these lives raise the unanswerable question of whether anyone ever entirely fulfills him or herself.  Or do we do exactly what we were meant to do, no matter how long our lifespan?  Call it Nurture / Nature, free will, what you will.     

But today I choose Frank Newton as someone I wish had more time in the sun.  His recorded legacy seems both singular and truncated.     

Frank Newton (who disliked the “Frankie” on record labels) was born in 1906 in Virginia.  He died in 1954, and made his last records in 1946.  A selection of the recorded evidence fills two compact discs issued on Jasmine, THE STORY OF A FORGOTTEN JAZZ TRUMPETER.    His Collected Works might run to four or five hours — a brief legacy, and there are only a few examples I know where an extended Newton solo was captured for posterity.  However, he made every note count. 

In and out of the recording sudios, he traveled in fast company: the pianists include Willie “the Lion” Smith, James P. Johnson, Teddy Wilson, Sonny White, Mary Lou Williams, Buck Washington, Meade Lux Lewis, Kenny Kersey, Billy Kyle, Don Frye, Albert Ammons, Joe Bushkin, Joe Sullivan, Sonny White, and Johnny Guarneri.  Oh, yes — and Art Tatum.  Singers?  How about Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Maxine Sullivan, and Ella Fitzgerald. 

Although Newton first went into the studio with Cecil Scott’s Bright Boys in 1929 for Victor, the brilliant trumpeter Bill Coleman and trombonist Dicky Wells blaze most notably on those sessions. 

It isn’t until 1933 that we truly hear Newton on record.  This interlude, lasting less than a minute, takes place in the middle of Bessie Smith’s “Gimme A Pigfoot,” one of four vaudeville-oriented songs she recorded at her last session, one organized by John Hammond, someone who re-emerges in Newton’s story.  It was a magnificent all-star band: Jack Teagarden, Chu Berry, Benny Goodman (for a moment), Buck Washington, guitarist Bobby Johnson, Billy Taylor on bass.  Hammond wanted Sidney Catlett on drums, but Bessie refused: “No drums.  I set the tempo.”  For all the rent-party trappings of the song, “Pigfoot” is thin material, requiring a singer of Bessie’s majesty to make it convincing.   

What one first notices about Newton’s solo is his subversive approach, his unusual tone and attack.  In 1933, the jazz world was rightly under the spell of Louis, which led to understandable extroversion.  Project.  Hit those high notes loud.  Sing out.  If you were accompanying a pop or blues singer, you could stay in the middle register, be part of the background, but aside from such notable exceptions as Joe Smith, Bubber Miley, trumpets were in the main assertive, brassy.  Dick Sudhalter thought Newton’s style was the result of technical limitations but I disagree; perhaps Newton was, like Tricky Sam Nanton, painting with sounds. 

Before Newton solos on “Pigfoot,” the record has been undeniably Bessie’s, although with murmurings from the other horns and a good deal of Washington’s spattering Hines punctuations.  But when Newton enters, it is difficult to remember that anyone else has had the spotlight.  Rather than boldly announce his presence with an upwards figure, perhaps a dazzling break, he sidles in, sliding down the scale like a man pretending to be drunk, whispering something we can’t quite figure out, drawling his notes with a great deal of color and amusement, lingering over them, not in a hurry at all.  His mid-chorus break is a whimsical merry-go-round up and down figure he particularly liked.  It’s almost as if he is teasing us, peeking at us from behind his mask, daring us to understand what he is up to.  The solo is the brief unforgettable speech of a great character actor, Franklin Pangborn or Edward Everett Horton, scored for jazz trumpet.  Another brassman would have offered heroic ascents, glowing upwards arpeggios; Newton appears to wander down a rock-choked slope, watching his footing.  It’s a brilliant gambit: no one could equal Bessie in scope, in power (both expressed and restrained) so Newton hides and reveals, understates.  And his many tones!  Clouded, muffled, shining for a brief moment and then turning murky, needling, wheedling, guttural, vocal and personal.  Considered in retrospect, this solo has a naughty schoolyard insouciance.  Given his turn in the spotlight, Newton pretends to thumb his nose at us.  Bessie has no trouble taking back the spotlight when she returns, but she wasn’t about to be upstaged by some trumpet-playing boy.     

Could any trumpet player, jazz or otherwise, do more than approximate what Newton plays here?  Visit http://www.redhotjazz.com/songs/bessie/gimmieapigfoot.ram to hear a fair copy of this recording.  (I don’t find that the link works: you may have to go to the Red Hot Jazz website and have the perverse pleasure of using “Pigfoot” as a search term.) 

The man who could play such a solo should have been recognized and applauded, although his talent was undeniably subtle.  (When you consider that Newton’s place in the John Kirby Sextet was taken by the explosively dramatic Charlie Shavers, Newton’s singularity becomes even clearer.)  His peers wanted him on record sessions, and he did record a good deal in the Thirties, several times under his own name.  But after 1939, his recording career ebbed and died. 

Nat Hentoff has written eloquently of Newton, whom he knew in Boston, and the man who comes through is proud, thoughtful, definite in his opinions, politically sensitive, infuriated by racism and by those who wanted to limit his freedoms.  Many jazz musicians are so in love with the music that they ignore everything else, as if playing is their whole life.  Newton seems to have felt that there was a world beyond the gig, the record studio, the next chorus.  And he was outspoken.  That might lead us back to John Hammond. 

Hammond did a great deal for jazz, as he himself told us.  But his self-portrait as the hot Messiah is not the whole story.  Commendably, he believed in his own taste, but he required a high-calorie diet of new enthusiasms to thrive.  Hammond’s favorite last week got fired to make way for his newest discovery.  Early on Hammond admired Newton, and many of Newton’s Thirties sessions had Hammond behind them.  Even if Hammond had nothing to do with a particular record, appearing on one major label made a competing label take notice.  But after 1939, Newton never worked for a mainstream record company again, and the records he made in 1944-1946 were done for small independent labels: Savoy (run by the dangerously disreputable Herman Lubinsky) and Asch (the beloved child of the far-left Moses Asch).  The wartime recording ban had something to do with this hiatus, but I doubt that it is the sole factor: musicians recorded regularly before the ban.  Were I a novelist or playwright, I would invent a scene where Newton rejects Hammond’s controlling patronage . . .  and falls from favor, never to return.  I admit this is speculation.  Perhaps it was simply that Newton chose to play as he felt rather than record what someone else thought he should.  A recording studio is often the last place where it is possible to express oneself freely and fully.  And I recall a drawing in a small jazz periodical from the late Forties, perhaps Art Hodes’ JAZZ RECORD, of Newton in the basement of an apartment building where he had taken a job as janitor so that he could read, paint, and perhaps play his trumpet in peace.  

I think of Django Reinhardt saying, a few weeks before he died, “The guitar bores me.”  Did Newton grow tired of his instrument, of the expectations of listeners, record producers, and club-owners?  On the rare recording we have of his speaking voice — a brief bit of a Hentoff interview — Newton speaks with sardonic humor about working in a Boston club where the owner’s taste ran to waltzes and “White Christmas,” but using such constraints to his advantage: every time he would play one of the owner’s sentimental favorites, he would be rewarded with a “nice thick steak.”  A grown man having to perform to be fed is not a pleasant sight, even though it is a regular event in jazz clubs.     

In addition, John Chilton’s biographical sketch of Newton mentions long stints of illness.  What opportunities Newton may have missed we cannot know, although he did leave Teddy HIll’s band before its members went to France.  It pleases me to imagine him recording with Django Reinhardt and Dicky Wells for the Swing label, settling in Europe to escape the racism in his homeland.  In addition, Newton lost everything in a 1948 house fire.  And I have read that he became more interested in painting than in jazz.  Do any of his paintings survive?  

Someone who could have told us a great deal about Newton in his last decade is himself dead — Ruby Braff, who heard him in Boston, admired him greatly and told Jon-Erik Kellso so.  And on “Russian Lullaby,” by Mary Lou WIlliams and her Chosen Five (Asch, reissued on vinyl on Folkway), where the front line is bliss: Newton, Vic Dickenson, and Ed Hall, Newton’s solo sounds for all the world like later Ruby — this, in 1944. 

In her notes to the Jasmine reissue, Sally-Ann Worsford writes that a “sick, disenchanted, dispirited” Newton “made his final appearance at New York’s Stuyvesant Casino in the early 1950s.”  That large hall, peopled by loudly enthusiastic college students shouting for The Saints, would not have been his metier.  It is tempting, perhaps easy, to see Newton as a victim.  But “sick, disenchanted, dispirited” is never the sound we hear, even on his most mournful blues. 

The name Jerry Newman must be added here — and a live 1941 recording that allows us to hear the Newton who astonished other players, on “Lady Be Good” and “Sweet Georgia Brown” in duet with Art Tatum (and the well-meaning but extraneous bassist Ebenezer Paul), uptown in Harlem, after hours, blessedly available on a HighNote CD under Tatum’s name, GOD IS IN THE HOUSE.  

Jerry Newman was then a jazz-loving Columbia University student with had a portable disc-cutting recording machine.  It must have been heavy and cumbersome, but Newman took his machine uptown and found that the musicians who came to jam (among them Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Christian, Hot Lips Page, Don Byas, Thelonious Monk, Joe Guy, Harry Edison, Kenny Clarke, Tiny Grimes, Dick Wilson, Helen Humes) didn’t mind a White college kid making records of their impromptu performances: in fact, they liked to hear the discs of what they had played.  (Newman, later on, issued some of this material on his own Esoteric label.  Sadly, he committed suicide.)  Newman caught Tatum after hours, relaxing, singing the blues — and jousting with Newton.  Too much happens on these recordings to write down, but undulating currents of invention, intelligence, play, and power animate every chorus.

On “Lady Be Good,” Newton isn’t in awe of Tatum and leaps in before the first chorus is through, his sound controlled by his mute but recognizable nonetheless.  Newton’s first chorus is straightforward, embellished melody with some small harmonic additions, as Tatum is cheerfully bending and testing the chords beneath him.  It feels as if Newton is playing obbligato to an extravagantly self-indulgent piano solo . . . . until the end of the second duet chorus, where Newton seems to parody Tatum’s extended chords: “You want to play that way?  I’ll show you!”  And the performance grows wilder: after the two men mimic one another in close-to-the-ground riffing, Newton lets loose a Dicky Wells-inspired whoop.  Another, even more audacious Tatum solo chorus follows, leading into spattering runs and crashing chords.  In the out- chorus, Tatum apparently does his best to distract or unsettle Newton, who will not be moved or shaken off.  “Sweet Georgia Brown” follows much the same pattern: Tatum wowing the audience, Newton biding his time, playing softly, even conservatively.  It’s not hard to imagine him standing by the piano, watching, letting Tatum have his say for three solo choruses that get more heroic as they proceed.  When Newton returns, his phrases are climbing, calm, measured — but that calm is only apparent, as he selects from one approach and another, testing them out, taking his time, moving in and outside the chords.  As the duet continues, it becomes clear that as forcefully as Tatum is attempting to direct the music, Newton is in charge.  It isn’t combat: who, after all, dominated Tatum?  But I hear Newton grow from accompanist to colleague to leader.  It’s testimony to his persuasive, quiet mastery, his absolute sense of his own rightness of direction (as when he plays a Tatum-pattern before Tatum gets to it).  At the end, Newton hasn’t “won” by outplaying Tatum in brilliance or volume, speed or technique — but he has asserted himself memorably.   

Taken together, these two perfomances add up to twelve minutes.  Perhaps hardly enough time to count for a man’s achievement among the smoke, the clinking glasses, the crowd.  But we marvel at them.  We celebrate Newton, we mourn his loss.

Postscript: in his autobiography, MYSELF AMONG OTHERS, Wein writes about Newton; Hentoff returns to Newton as a figure crucial in his own development in BOSTON BOY and a number of other places.  And then there’s HUNGRY BLUES, Benjamin T. Greenberg’s blog (www.hungryblues.net).  His father, Paul Greenberg, knew Newton in the Forties and wrote several brief essays about him — perhaps the best close-ups we have of the man.  In Don Peterson’s collection of his father Charles’s resoundingly fine jazz photography, SWING ERA NEW YORK, there’s a picture of Newton, Mezz Mezzrow, and George Wettling at a 1937 jam session.  I will have much more to write about Peterson’s photography in a future posting.

BILLIE HOLIDAY Thanks DOC CHEATHAM and HOAGY CARMICHAEL Thanks DICK CARY

Two particularly endearing compact discs have arrived, and I haven’t stopped playing them. They’re on the Swedish Kenneth label, the jazz-child of the jazz scholar and producer Gosta Hagglof, who also happens to be one of the world’s most fervent Louis Armstrong fans and specialists. (His site, “Classic Jazz Productions,” is on the blogroll to the right.)

For forty years now, Gosta has been producing records and CDs of heartwarming jazz, featuring Maxine Sullivan, Benny Waters, Kenny Davern, Doc Cheatham, and others, alongside Swedish jazz stars, including the quite spectacular cornetist-trumpeter Bent Persson, reedman Claes Brodda, and others. These sessions have an inimitable looseness, somewhere between live performances (think of the St. Regis jam sessions without Alistair Cooke) or the slightly more formal Teddy Wilson Brunswicks, lyrical and propulsive. Here’s a much younger Gosta greeting Louis at the airport in 1965: the warm feeling passing back and forth is immediately evident.

Now, Gosta has issued Dick Cary: The Wonderful World of Hoagy Carmichael (Kenneth CKS 3410), and A Tribute to Billie Holiday: Doc Cheatham and his Swedish Jazz All Stars featuring Henri Chaix (CKS 3407). You might initially think that there have already been more than enough tributes to Hoagy and Billie, but these discs are stirringly good.

Dick Cary was one of those musicians who didn’t get recognized for his talents, perhaps because he had so many of them. He was the pianist at Louis’s Town Hall Concert: his replacement was Earl Hines, which is an honor in itself. He also was a beautifully-focused trumpeter, the only soloist I know on the Eb alto horn (the “peckhorn”), a fine composer and arranger. Cary valued variety and tone color: his piano playing encompassed Teddy Wilson and Willie “the Lion” Smith to create a seamless mainstream idiom. His trumpet playing reminds me of a cross between Harry Edison and Bobby Hackett, with touches of Joe Thomas, and no one sounded like him on the alto horn.

So the listener gets good value, to say the least, with any Cary performance — and the Hoagy performances show him off wonderfully. The arrangements are subtly varied, sometimes transforming the material: “What Kind O’Man Is You,” memorable only because Mildred Bailey sang it on a 1929 record, becomes a slow, swaying drag here, as does “Snowball.” (Most Carmichael tributes stick to his half-dozen most famous songs: this one doesn’t, without becoming esoteric.) And Cary loved the momentum that a rocking jazz band could create: his “Harvey” (a loose sketch on “Dinah,” for the most part) and “Riverboat Shuffle” build up a fine head of steam. The ballads are winsome, especially the never-perfromed “Kinda Lonesome.” It’s also a tribute to the man who did so much to bring Hoagy into the jazz consciousness, in “Ev’ntide,” “Lyin’ to Myself,” “Rockin’ Chair,” heart-on-sleeve evocations of the great Armstrong recordings, with Bent Persson in full flower. It’s one of those CDs that I have been playing from start to finish without getting bored, and there’s a percussion break in the middle of “Riverboat Shuffle” that makes me laugh out loud. What more could anyone want? How about three bonus tracks: two evoking the Ellington Brunswicks, “Kissing My Baby Goodnight” and “Love Is Like A Cigarette,” which summon up the moody sound of that band. And the CD ends with a bit of brilliant French Quarter jive in Cary’s “Swing Down in New Orleans,” which features the imperishable Doc Cheatham on trumpet and vocal, rolling his R’s extravagantly when he sings “Clar-r-r-r-inet Mar-r-r-r-malade.” Delicious!

Cheatham is in rare form on the Billie tribute, which summons up the atmosphere surrounding her more than being a direct copy of her vocals, which is all to the good. (Billie herself would have been displeased by the many feline types yowling their way through “Fine and Mellow”: better they should have stayed in the litter box.)

On this CD, the band is led by the brilliant swing / stride master Henri Chaix, whose accompaniments are a joy on their own. There is a wonderful two-tempoed rendition of “I Wish I Had You,” which Billie fanatics will remember as a title where she sings “I whoosh I had you,” always a sweetly weird moment. Doc’s climbing trumpet style is beautifully captured — no drum solos, no racetrack solos — and we get to hear him sing “The Gal I Love”:

Someday she’ll come along, the gal I love. And she’ll be big and strong, the gal I love.

Wouldn’t miss that for the world! And Doc seems to be having the time of his life, vocally. He sings at the top of his range, as he always did, lending his vocalizing a definitely feminine sound without going into falsetto; he speaks lyrics when the mood was right, and here he even indulges in touches of Fats Waller’s raillery. Even for Doc, these vocals are remarkable. And the instrumental playing on both these discs is wonderful — great rhythm section work and solos. Hagglof’s Swedish marvels come out of the great tradition, fully realized and comfortable within it, but they don’t copy the obvious models or the most recognizable sounds. You’ll hear echoes of Louis and Teddy on these discs, but also small heartfelt homages to Herschel Evans and Sandy Williams.

These are irreplaceable sessions. Gosta has two more CDs with Doc in store for us, which is splendid news. For now, I’m going to keep playing these discs, moving them from the car to the computer to the CD player, so as not to miss any notes.