Tag Archives: Herb Gardner

SOUTH OF FOURTEENTH STREET (March 4, 1944)

When I am in conversation with someone new and the talk turns to my pursuit of live jazz in New York City, the question will be, “I suppose you go uptown to hear music?  Do you go to . . . ”  And then my questioner will mention some club, usually now-vanished, in what he or she thinks of as “Harlem.”  My answer nearly always causes surprised perplexity, “No, almost every place I frequent is below Fourteenth Street — you know, Greenwich Village.”

Nearly seventy-five years ago (before my time) the Village was a thriving place for hot jazz to flourish, with clubs and venues now legendary but long gone.

One of the quiet heroes of hot piano was Cliff Jackson, who began his career as accompanist to female blues singers but always as a striding player on his own or as the leader of a big band, an in-demand sideman, intermission pianist, and valued soloist.  (And he was married to Maxine Sullivan until his death in 1969.)

Cliff Jackson, 1947, photograph by William P. Gottlieb

In the last years of the Second World War, several independent record companies (notably Black and White and Disc) took the opportunity to record Jackson, either solo or in bands.  He was a remarkable player, full of charging percussive energy, with singularly strong left-hand patterns (just this week I found out, thanks to the great player / informal historian Herb Gardner, that Jackson was left-handed, which explains a good deal).

Here are three sides from a remarkable and remarkably little-known session for Black and White by the Cliff Jackson Quartet, featuring Pee Wee Russell, Bob Casey, and Jack Parker.  Pee Wee and Casey were long associated with Eddie Condon bands (Eddie featured Cliff in concert and on the television “Floor Show” often).  I am assuming that Jack and Jack “the Bear” Parker, both drummers, are one and the same, recording with Eddie Heywood, Don Byas, Eddie South, Hot Lips Page, Mary Lou Williams, Pete Johnson, Leo Parker, Babs Gonzales — and he’s on Louis’ BECAUSE OF YOU and Nat Cole’s 1946 THE CHRISTMAS SONG as well).

The quartet speaks the common language with grace and eloquence.  We get to hear Cliff at length, and Bob Casey has a fine solo.  Pee Wee seems particularly unfettered: he was the sole horn on sessions that happened once every few years (with Joe Sullivan and Jess Stacy for Commodore) and I think not being placed between trumpet, trombone, and baritone saxophone made for greater freedom. That freedom means great sensitivity on ONE HOUR, and wonderfully abstract phrases on WEARY BLUES.

from Fats to James P. Johnson:

and back in time to Artie Matthews:

Readers who are well-versed or have discographies (some might be both) will note that the YouTube poster has not offered us Cliff’s minor original, QUIET PLEASE.  Yes, there are a number of offerings of this song by Cliff, but they are of a 12″ Black and White session including Bechet, the DeParis brothers, Gene Sedric, Everett Barksdale, Wellman Braud, Eddie Dougherty — a true gathering of individualists. But — before there is wailing and gnashing of teeth from the cognoscenti — a nearly new copy of the quartet’s QUIET PLEASE arrived yesterday from my most recent eBay debauch, and if the stars are in proper alignment, it could emerge on this very site.

May your happiness increase!

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A FEW GLOWING SECONDS OF GLORY

When I returned to my apartment in New York, I thought, “I need music in here. Music will help remind me who I am, what I am supposed to be doing, where my path might lead.”  Initially I reached for some favorite performances for consolation, then moved over to the crates of homemade audiocassettes — evidence of more than twenty-five years of tape-trading with like-minded souls.

One tape had the notation PRIVATE CHICAGO, and looking at it, I knew that it was the gift of Leonora Taylor, who preferred to be called “Gypsy,” and who had an unusual collection of music.  When I asked drummer / scholar Hal Smith about her, he reminded me that she loved the UK clarinetist Archie Semple. Although I don’t recall having much if any Archie to offer her, we traded twenty or thirty cassettes.

PRIVATE CHICAGO had some delightful material recorded (presumably) at the Evanston, Illinois house of Edwin “Squirrel” Ashcraft — amateur pianist, sometime composer, friend / benefactor to jazz musicians. Squirrel was both a dear friend of Pee Wee Russell, Joe Rushton, Eddie Condon, Boyce Brown, Johnny Mercer, George Barnes, Lee Wiley, Jimmy McPartland, Bud Freeman, and many others — one facet of a very intriguing life.  He deserves a biography.

But back to the music.

I played through the side of the cassette, rewound it, and played it again.  And I kept returning to a short improvisation: BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC, played by Johnny Windhurst (cornet or trumpet) and Jack Gardner (piano) with possibly other players in the background — I hear a murmuring clarinet offering harmony notes — recorded, Gypsy’s typed notes say, circa 1950.

Neither Windhurst nor Gardner is as well known as they should be. Windhurst (1926-1981) was recognized young as a brilliant player, and got to play with the best — Sidney Bechet and Pops Foster in Boston when he wasn’t voting age, then Ed Hall, Vic Dickenson, Kenny Kersey, John Field, Jimmy Crawford a few years later, moving on to be one of Eddie Condon’s regulars, briefly recording with Jack Teagarden and on his own date with Buell Neidlinger, on a Walt Gifford session, with Barbara Lea (he was both colleague and boyfriend) then moving upstate to Poughkeepsie, New York, where he died too young (once being mugged and beaten) of a heart attack.

I saw him in person once, at Your Father’s Mustache in New York in 1972 — with Herb Hall and Herb Gardner (the latter someone who is very much with us) and Red Balaban.  Windhurst was capable of the most beautiful melodic flights of fancy — a cross between heavenly music of the highest order and Bobby Hackett — but he couldn’t read music, disdained the idea of doing so, and thus turned down higher-paying and possibly higher-visibility gigs from bandleaders.  I read somewhere that Woody Herman wanted to hire him, offered him good pay, promised to teach him to read, but Windhurst — a free spirit — would have none of it.

There is one video extant of Windhurst — I wrote about it, and him, in 2009 (and received wonderful comments from people who had played alongside him) here.

I did not know much about pianist Gardner, except that what I’ve heard suggests a delicate barrelhouse approach, and I seem to recall he was a large man called by some “Jumbo Jack.” But an exquisite biographical sketch of Jack by the diligent writer and researcher Derek Coller can be found here.  (Our Jack Gardner is not the man who led an orchestra in Dallas in 1924-5.)  Jack first recorded with Wingy Manone and Jimmy McPartland, then got more visibility with Harry James (you can hear him on SLEEPY TIME GAL and he is also on Sinatra’s first recording with James) 1939-40, then he crops up with Muggsy Spanier, Red Nichols, Bud Freeman, and after being captured on sessions at Squirrel’s from 1950-52, we hear no more from him.

I know THE BATTLE  HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC as a very assertive religious song in which the enemies of the Lord receive divine punishment:  “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored / He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword,” and so on, even though later verses of the song — known to how many? — suggest that there is a balm of kindness.

More importantly than the theological, I and others know it as a hot number — think of “Red Nichols” as played by Danny Kaye and “Louis Armstrong” as played by himself in THE FIVE PENNIES, sending the sermon. Everyone from Art Hodes to George Lewis to Gerry Mulligan has recorded it, but I suggest that no version you will ever hear matches the sweet delicacy of this brief celestial interlude by Windhurst and Gardner.

Windhurst doesn’t venture far from the melody — the recording catches less than a whole chorus, and aside from a bluesy transformation near the end, it is melodic embellishment rather than harmonic improvisation.  But he treats the melodic line with lightness, fervor, and love; every note is caressed; his tone is so beautiful as to make “golden” into an affront.  Gardner plays a simplified version of barrelhouse support but never gets in Windhurst’s way. The whole duet is tender, yearning — the music of the spheres in under a minute.

Glory, glory, hallelujah.

May your happiness increase!

“KEEPING TRADITIONAL JAZZ ALIVE”: JEFF AND JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY (October 10-11-12, 2014)

As an antidote to the recurring journalistic “Jazz is dead,” “Jazz is irrelevant,” “Jazz no longer has an audience,” I offer cheering evidence to the contrary: Jeff and Joel’s House Party (October 10-12, Guilford, Connecticut).

I’ve been to two of the House Parties thrown by Jeff Barnhart and Joel Schiavone in Connecticut and they were wonderful weekends: friendly, full of fun, with easy opportunities to hear an abundance of hot music in cozy surroundings. Rather than hearing music at a distance while sitting in a hotel ballroom, people who attend the House Party actually have it at close range, and find themselves surrounded by friends who are there because they, too, enjoy the sounds.

Most of us aren’t actually going to throw a rent party — hire a dozen or more professional musicians and have them play long sets over a weekend — so this is as close as we will get to that experience.  And when you look at the listing of musicians, stars of the traditional jazz scene in the Northeast, you know that “professional” is both accurate and an understatement here.

Only eighty seats are available for each session over this weekend, so I encourage you to investigate soon: previous House Parties have sold out. (I checked the site today, and more than half of the seating is already taken.)

My friend Eric Devine — a brilliant jazz cinematographer — has been on hand to capture some of the highlights of past House Parties for us all.  (His YouTube channel is CineDevine and he takes his camera to surprising places.) Here are a few samples of the wonderful music to be experienced there. From April 2013, John Gill singing SALOON:

Jeff Barnhart tenderly singing and playing Fats Waller’s THERE’S A GAL IN MY LIFE in October 2013:

I’ve chosen more restrained examples of the hot music offered at the House Party, but there’s plenty of AVALON and THAT’S A PLENTY. Here’s one such seismic expression from October 2012, AFTER YOU’VE GONE:

This year, there will be a special Friday night (October 10) concert featuring Dan Levinson and Molly Ryan: 7-9 PM, tickets $30 / person. And the three sessions to follow (Saturday afternoon and evening, Sunday afternoon) will feature Jeff Barnhart, Joel Schiavone, Vince Giordano, Dan Levinson, Molly Ryan, Herb Gardner, Lew Green, Tom Palinko, Fred Vigorito, Genevieve Rose, Bill Reynolds, Bob Ferguson, Peter Anderson, Will Anderson, Herb Roselle — everything from solo piano, duos and trios, to full-ensemble traditional jazz and banjo-led sing-alongs. You can purchase tickets for individual sessions or for all three, plus Friday’s concert: the tickets for the weekend sessions include food and non-alcoholic beverages.

Find out more at the event’s Facebook page, or at the Jeff and Joel’s House Party page. Or call Maureen Cunningham at (203)208-1481 — Maureen will return your call in the evening.

May your happiness increase!

GOODBYE, RED BALABAN. FAREWELL, BOB GREENE

I’ve written very sparingly about the deaths of jazz musicians in JAZZ LIVES — for one reason, thinking that turning this blog into an ongoing necrological record was at odds with its title. But without saying that one musician is more important than another (Bobby Gordon, Frank Wess, Al Porcino, Jim Hall, Chico Hamilton, Sam Ulano, and a dozen others I am not mentioning here) I want to write and share a few words about two deaths of late 2013.

One was the bassist / guitarist / singer / impresario Leonard “Red” Balaban, the other, pianist Bob Greene.  Both of them were ardent workers in the jazz vineyards, and both (in their own subtle ways) did as much to advance the music as more-heralded musicians.

I had occasion to observe and interact with Red Balaban many times in 1972-5, again in 1975-the early Eighties, and once in 2013. In the summer of 1972, I learned from reading the listings in THE NEW YORKER that Sunday-afternoon jazz sessions were being held at Your Father’s Mustache (once Nick’s, now a Gourmet Garage — sic transit gloria mundi) on Seventh Avenue and Tenth Street.  I and several friends made pilgrimages there.  The Mustache was a huge hall with sawdust on the floor, creaking long tables and wobbly chairs.  But for a nominal admission charge and the purchase of food and drink of dubious quality, we could sit as close to the bandstand as possible and (often) illicitly record the music.  The house band — Balaban and Cats — harking back to Red’s heritage in show business with the Chicago movie theatre chain created by Balaban and Katz — was usually a sextet, with Red playing string bass and singing, occasionally guitar or banjo, rarely tuba.  He called the tunes in consultation with the guest star, chose tempos, and led the session.  The Cats I remember were Marquis Foster, Buzzy Drootin, Dick Wellstood, Bobby Pratt, Chuck Folds, Red Richards, Sal Pace, Kenny Davern, Joe Muranyi, Dick Rath, Herb Gardner, Ed Polcer, Doc Cheatham, and I am sure there were others.  The guest stars, stopping in from Olympus or Valhalla, were Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, Buddy Tate, Jo Jones, Dicky Wells, Vic Dickenson, Benny Morton, Bob Wilber — enough stiumlation for a lifetime.  I was a college student with limited funds, so I didn’t see every session: missing Gene Krupa, Al Cohn, Lou McGarity, and others.  But I did see Eddie Condon in the audience, which would make the Sunday sessions memorable even if no music had been played.  And his daughter Liza was there now and again, photographing the musicians.

A few years later, I saw Red occasionally as a member of Mike Burgevin’s little band at Brew’s, playing alongside Vic Dickenson and other luminaries.  Eventually, Red and Ed Polcer created the “last” Eddie Condon’s, on 54th Street, and I went there when I could — the house band, as I recall it, included Ed, Vic, Herb Hall, Jimmy Andrews, John Bunch, Connie, Kay, Ronnie Cole, and another galaxy of visitors, including Helen Humes, Al Hall, Jimmy Rowles, Brooks Kerr, Marty Grosz, Bob Sparkman, Ruby Braff, Joe Bushkin, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones.  At Condon’s one could also see Billy Butterfield, Dan Barrett, Soprano Summit, Zoot and Al — a midtown oasis, now gone.

Finally, I got to meet Red once again, after a lapse of decades, at the October 2012 house party created by Joel Schiavone and Jeff Barnhart. I introduced myself as someone who had good reason to be grateful to him for those Sunday sessions, and we chatted a bit.

Thanks to CineDevine, we have two samples of Red, late in his career, gently entertaining the room, with assistance from Jim Fryer, Jeff Barnhart, and others.  In a Waller-Razaf mood:

and something pretty from Rodgers and Hart:

A musician I respect, someone around in those New York years, had this to say about Red: “Not only did he love the music, but thousands upon thousands of dollars went through his hands and into the hands of musicians.  What he did with Condon’s # 3 is part of New York City jazz history.  He was a kind man who came from a very interesting family.  He wasn’t Ray Brown or Bob Haggart, but he kept jazz alive.”

Without Red Balaban, I doubt that I — and many others — would have heard as much memorable music as we did in those New York years.  So we owe him a great deal.  And he will be missed.  Another view of Red can be found here.

Pianist Bob Greene also left us late in 2013.

Bob devoted his life to celebrating Jelly Roll Morton and his music. He wasn’t the only pianist who has done so, but his emulation was fervent. I saw him summon up the Master at Alice Tully Hall in 1974 with a lovely little band (Pee Wee Erwin, Ephie Resnick, Herb Hall, Alan Cary, Milt Hinton, Tommy Benford).  They couldn’t quite turn that austere space into a Storyville bordello or the Jungle Inn (it would have required an architectural reconstruction taking years) but the music floated and rocked.  Across the distance of the decades, I think of Bob as a brilliant actor, committed with all his heart and energy to one role and to the perfection of that role — not a bad life-goal.

Bob was respected by his peers.  Mike Lipskin said, “Bob was a fine performer of Jelly Roll Morton compositions, and devoted much of his life to keeping the memory of this giant early jazz pioneer alive. I had the pleasure of seeing him in concert many years ago.”  And a man we just lost, Bobby Gordon, told me, “I have fond memories of Bob for 40 years. He was always enthusiastic about music. I recorded with him 40 years ago and most recently for Jazzology. It was wonderful to record with him again, and a joy to be with such a remarkable talent. I will miss him……..a dear friend.”

Here’s a beautiful expansive piece by Hank O’Neal, a very lively evocation of Bob:

The first time I saw Bob Greene, he was playing a poor electric piano with a fairly loose ensemble, on the back of a flat bed truck. The band on the truck was trying, unsuccessfully, to recreate the feeling generated by old time bands on wagons in New Orleans. It is a long way from New Orleans to Manassas, Virginia, and 1967 was a half a century removed from those heady days in the Crescent City. I don’t remember the enterprise stirring up much support for the first Manassas Jazz Festival, but Bob was on board because his old friend, Edmund “Doc” Souchon was also there, and Doc had probably asked him to come along. I know it happened because I have a snapshot to prove it. In another snapshot from the same day he’s playing cornet.

You had to look pretty hard to find out anything about Bob. He’s not well-known today, rarely mentioned in any of the standard jazz reference books, and you have to dig pretty deep to come up with any information at all, but the bits and pieces are there if you look for them. And the story and the music he’s made along the way are both wonderful.

Bob’s first love was Benny Goodman, Jess Stacy and the swing guys who were all over the place when he was a teenager. He could still, when asked, do the best imitation of Stacy I’ve ever heard, but at some point he heard Jelly Roll Morton, and was hooked. Until his death in 2013, he remained one of the foremost exponent of Jelly’s music in the land. There are other guys who could play more notes, play King Porter Stomp louder or Fingerbuster faster, but when it came to really delivering the goods, with just the right mix of technique, exuberance and sentiment, nobody else even came close.

There are other guys who play Morton’s compositions well, in the style, often with more sheer technique, but, for the most part, this is just a portion, usually a small portion, of their repertory. The music of Jelly Roll Morton and some of his circa 1900 contemporaries, made up about 90 percent of Bob’s playbook, and the telephone doesn’t ring very often these days, or any other days for the past few decades, for someone to play a recital of Morton’s music. Which was just fine for Bob. He never had any intention of being a full time musician. The world was just full of too many other things to try.

Bob made his first recordings in 1950 with Conrad Janis (Circle) and in 1951 with Sidney DeParis (Blue Note) and recorded intermittently for the next sixty years, whenever it was convenient. His performance schedule was about the same. He played in and around New York City in the 1950s and Washington D.C. in the 1960s because he was writing some pretty fancy stuff for assorted notables to read on radio or in political speeches. Goodness knows what else he may have been up to. When he wrote a book about the OSS exploits of his cousin, Paul Blum, he had no difficulty gaining access to the highest levels of the intelligence community. But back to the music.

After Bob climbed down off the back of the truck during the ill-fated parade in Manassas, I discovered he could also play a real piano and when he played Morton it was special. As I’ve suggested, he made up in spirit and authenticity what he may lacked in a formidable technique. Not that he made mistakes, he didn’t, but to this particular pianist, passion was the point, not technique. He had all he needed to get his point across. Much in the same as Thelonoius Monk. Other people played Just A Gigolo better than Monk, but nobody played it with more quirky feeling.

The first time I really heard Bob was when I was asked to round up the gear to record a band to be led by the then legendary, now largely forgotten drummer, Zutty Singleton. The gear came from Squirrel Ashcraft, the recorder, microphones, even the take-up reels. It was February 12, 1967, I remember the date with great affection because it was the very first commercially released record I ever worked on. It was also my first encounter with Zutty, still a marvelous drummer, and the only person I ever heard in person who could almost simulate a melody on the drums.

Bob Greene was a strong presence among many exceptional players that day and the highlight of the recording, to me at least, was a duo, just Zutty and Bob, on Cake Walking Babies From Home. I don’t know if Jelly ever played the tune, but if he did, he would have played it like Bob played it that day, and maybe Zutty would have been around to make sure. This was Johnson McRee’s first record for his Fat Cat’s Jazz label, and except for a solo outing by Don Ewell, perhaps the best record he ever produced.

In the 1970s, I asked Bob to record for Chiaroscuro on many occasions, but he always declined. There was always a semi-legitimate excuse. He was the only person I asked to record in those years who didn’t jump at the chance, including Bob’s first idol, Jess Stacy. In the late 1970’s Bob assembled his World of Jelly Roll Morton band, made a fine record for RCA, played Carnegie Hall a few years and toured successfully with the group. But most of the time he was in between New Orleans, Paris, Tokyo and New York, rarely in any place for very long. He slowed down long enough to record all the Jelly Roll Morton tracks for Louis Malle’s fine film, Pretty Baby and he enthralled audiences with his Jelly Roll show at numerous Floating Jazz Festivals. I recorded one of these shows in the late 1980s. Maybe I’ll listen to it one day and see if it should be released.

In 1994 we produced an event for Cunard on Queen Elizabeth 2, a 12-day survey of the music of New Orleans, and Bob was on board, as both Jelly Roll Morton and as the pianist with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The New Yorker’s noted critic, Whitney Balliett, was also on board, in disguise as Baby Dodds, tastefully accompanying Bob on a snare and cymbal. Romantic that he was, Bob fell in love with the ship and was heartbroken when he learned that much of the furniture in the ship’s Theater Bar, where he held forth nightly with Whitney, was to be taken off QE2 when it reached New York, and given to the Salvation Army. He decided he had to have a table and four leather chairs and set about finding a way to work it out.

When we docked, I left via the crew gangway, and saw Bob at the other end of the pier in heated conversation with a man in a Salvation Army uniform. Longshoreman were hauling the furniture and putting it inside a truck. I later learned that Bob got his furniture. The deal was for a table and four leather chairs, in the best condition possible, delivered to his home on 92nd Street. In exchange, Bob promised to assemble a band, including Whitney, to play for a Salvation Army Christmas party. A decade or so later Bob moved out to the end of Long island and that old Theater Bar furniture moved with him, a few miles closer to Southampton. This is the kind of thing that appealed to Bob.

If Bob had worked at a career in music half as hard as he worked at getting that furniture, who knows what might have happened? But perhaps nothing would have happened, which is the case with most people who try to have a career in jazz, and he wouldn’t have had nearly as good a time as he had for the past 91 years. He was one of a handful of pianists I’d go out of my way to hear because he always made me happy. He had the same effect on others.

In November 2006 he toured Japan and a lot of other people went out of their way to hear him. After that he began working on a project to present a Jelly Roll Morton show at Jazz At Lincoln Center but it didn’t work out. A year or so after that he asked what I thought of getting him together with Joshua Bell for some duets. I thought it sound like a good idea, that Bell could do a lot worse. That didn’t work out either but an awful lot did and the music that resulted with simply wonderful.

Bob and friends:

MAMIE’S BLUES (2006):

I THOUGHT I HEARD BUDDY BOLDEN SAY (2010):

TIGER RAG (2011):

Thinking about these men, all I can say is this.

Not everyone is a Star, but everyone counts.  And fortunate are those who can follow their life’s calling and share their passions with us.

May your happiness increase!

PETER ECKLUND’S MUSICAL WORLDS: “BLUE SUITCASE”

I was first captivated by Peter Ecklund’s music before there were compact discs.  In 1987, his bright cornet sounds came leaping out of the speaker as soon as I began to play KEEPERS OF THE FLAME, a Marty Grosz record (Stomp Off).  Then I bought and treasured PETER ECKLUND AND HIS MELODY MAKERS — now happily reissued on CD as HORN OF PLENTY (Classic Jazz).   

But wait!  There’s more.  Let me break into this discography / memoir and add a soundtrack: click on  http://www.peterecklundmusic.com/ for a charming musical background — Peter and friends playing his compositions and a few standard tunes. 

That’s better, isn’t it?

Here’s something even more encouraging: a new Peter Ecklund CD, called BLUE SUITCASE.  It’s available at CDBaby as a download or disc: (http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/PeterEcklund2) — for the ultimate musical experience, you can buy a copy from him at a gig.

Marianne Mangan, formerly a roving correspondent for JAZZ LIVES, wrote the pitch-perfect notes for BLUE SUITCASE:

Peter Ecklund is a conjurer, a creator of musical moods that span time, place and idioms. In this collection of jazz/pop eclectica, a combination of Ecklund originals and reinterpreted/rearranged standards, he evokes eras and emotions with a startling clairvoyance: you never heard it before, you never heard it THAT way before, but it feels exactly right.

And he does it with a unique methodology: the careful construct of skilled instrumentalists engineered to play as one with MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) files, all filtered through the operating system of an Apple computer. The result is BLUE SUITCASEa technologically-assisted artistic vision, in every instance as musically astute as a dozen bands specific to their bookings.

Take these revamped staples of early jazz: the once-rollicking romp San is a moody retro-tech visit to the dark continent, returned to sunny refrain by way of ukulele and clarinet. Dinah is hot as ever in a cooler sort of way, and technically brilliant in the hands of Ecklund and Block. The Broadway stalwart This Can’t Be Love here becomes an accordion-accented fugue for engaging trumpet and flugelhorn choruses, a succession of muted and open-horn improvs.

On the lead-off non-original (but hardly un-original) in this set, secrets are exchanged between triangle, trumpet, accordion and ukulele. Old Madeira Waltz lulls with its laconic delivery and intrigues with its mysterious tone.

Now witness Ecklund the composer as time-traveler in Tail Fins—top-down breezy, at once sweet and bittersweet—and so perfectly 1950s that the millennial stress starts to seep from your pores. Watching the World Go By takes you to the ’60s as surely as these boots are made for walking (and those doomsday disco riffs preceding a cheerful trumpet lead and plaintive vocal are precisely the mixmaster magic so prevalent throughout).

Or timeless as a silver screen legend, when a well-played saw (yes, saw) evokes the angel-voiced end of a Warner Brothers’ melodrama with the propulsive melody of an Italian cinema score. Add a jazz-baby chorus, a vaguely yokel vocal incanting film star infatuation, and finish with a brassy Hollywood fanfare: a Love Sawng for the ages.

Finally, the ‘meter-medley’, a quartet of varied pleasures in celebrated
time signatures.  For swingers…From gruff fiddle licks through jaunty conversational exchanges, the aptly named
Texas Shuffle never loses its
irrepressible rhythmic bounce.  For classicists…As the horns and accordion elaborate on
Lazy Ragtime’s filigreed rhythms they are underpinned not by alternating bass notes and chords but arpeggiating strings. Of course.
For sweethearts…A lovely, questioning melody and orchestral
changes of venue turn the classic slow-slow-quick-quick into a folk
sonatina with every variation of strain and instrument: a courtyard in
England, a forest in Eastern Europe, a ballroom in New York.
Horn, accordion,
Foxtrot. Romance.  For everybody…The gentle thesis of Waltz for a Song is stated in muted brass, spun out open-voiced against a circular undercurrent, then returning home—as all good waltzes do—with straightforward yet intense exposition. BLUE SUITCASE meets the most iconic dance of all, and the benefits are mutual.

What more could anyone want?  Peter Ecklund — on cornet, trumpet, fluegelhorn, ukulele, whistling (he’s a master), composing and creating just-right musical backgrounds. (And where many CDs labor under the weight of their creator’s narrowly intense artistic vision — where the result is seventy-five minutes of the same thing — this one is a tasting menu of surprises.)

And a word about that suitcase.  If you’d asked me in other circumstances for my feelings about having a splendid jazz soloist accompanied by something technological, I would have become anxious.  I’ve heard too many CDs where (perhaps for budgetary reasons) the “strings” come out of a box, and they bear the same relation to actual strings as dehydrated soup mix does to soup. 

But Peter Ecklund’s imaginative efforts here aren’t an attempt to offer imitations at reduced prices.  Rather, Peter’s backgrounds and melodies that come out of the Blue Suitcase are evocative additions, swirling around the human players and singers: this CD is a ticket inside his imaginations, and that’s a wonderful gift.  Besides, it makes me think of a famous Louis Armstrong anecdote.  Someone had asked him (off the record), “Louis, how do you stand playing with bands where the musicians are well below your level?” And he’s supposed to have replied, “You start relying on other musicians and it’s too bad for you!”  Peter’s surrounded himself with first-rate players on this CD: among them Dan Block, Will Holshouser, Andrew Guterman, Joel Eckhaus, Melody Federer, Christine Balfa, Murray Wall, Gary Burke, Marty Laster, and Matt Munisteri.  And the BLUE SUITCASE, a most magical piece of luggage, by Peter’s side for these wonderful journeys.   

And — not incidentally — New Yorkers and intrepid travelers can now see Peter in person in a variety of settings: visit his site to see his current gigs, which include stints with the Grove Street Stompers at Arthur’s Tavern, with Terry Waldo’s Gotham Jazz Band at Fat Cat, with the Stan Rubin trio featuring Herb Gardner at Charley O’s, with the Stan Rubin band at Swing 46, with the Gotham Jazzmen at the Greenwich Village Bistro.  Peter, incidentally, is memorably inventive in person, even when his luggage is in his apartment. 

To paraphrase Linus, “Happiness is a full gig calendar!”  Details here: http://www.peterecklundmusic.com/?section=calendar — and you can join Peter’s email list to be kept up to date on these happenings.

JOHNNY WINDHURST, MUCH MISSED

Few people today know of the cornetist Johnny Windhurst, but those who do speak of him with awe and affection. 

I first heard him on a Folkways record called JAZZ OF THE FORTIES, which contained excerpts from a concert put on by Bob Maltz in 1946.  The other participants inckuded Sidney Bechet, Pops Foster, Vernon Brown, Mezz Mezzrow, Baby Dodds, James P. Johnson.  Windhurst had a ballad feature on “She’s Funny That Way” that wasn’t very long — perhaps two choruses — but it was instantly memorable.  The idea of a brass player having a golden tone is and was an obvious cliche, but it applied to Johnny.  He had built his style on a synthesis of Bobby Hackett and Louis and moved on from there.  His playing had a simplicity and tenderness I haven’t heard anyone else approach.  At the time, the only Windhurst I could hear was on recordings he had made with the fine singer Barbara Lea. 

In mid-1972, when I began to go into New York City to hear live jazz (with Stu Zimny and Rob Rothberg) the Sunday afternoon sessions led by bassist Red Balaban at Your Father’s Mustache were a special treat.  Balaban was not a stirring leader, bassist, banjoist, or singer, but he had good taste in guest stars.  One of them was Windhurst, who came down from Poughkeepsie, where his mother lived, to lead the band — either Dick Rath or Herb Gardner on trombone, Herb Hall on piano, either Chuck Folds or Red Richards on piano, and Marquis Foster or Buzzy Drootin on drums.

Windhurst looked much as he had ever looked — boyish, small, bespectacled, with a natty bow tie.  He seemed a little distant, a little tired, but he played beautifully.

After that Sunday, I began to ask my collector-friends for the private tapes they had.  John L. Fell, generous and erudite, shared his treasures.  Joe Boughton, a true Windhurst friend and fancier, let me hear tapes of Windhurst playing in the early Fifties at college gigs; later, I found the two lps on which he had appeared (one, a quartet session under his own name; the other, a session led by the drummer Walt Gifford).  He had recorded with Condon for Decca.  Still later, the “Jazz Nocturne” programs of 1945, where a 19-year old Windhurst stood next to Sidney Bechet and didn’t give an inch, came out on the Fat Cat’s Jazz label, and the “Doctor Jazz” broadcasts from 1952 or so, also appeared on Storyville.  I even found a semi-private recording made in Poughkeepsie at “The Last Chance Saloon,” where Johnny and his friend, trombonist Eddie Hubble, played in front of a local session.  Later, I heard broadcasts from the Savoy Cafe in Boston, where in 1947, Windhurst had run in the quickest of company: Ed Hall, Vic Dickenson,Kenny Kersey, John Field, and Jimmy Crawford.   

In all these recordings, Windhurst took risks but never faltered, and his tone never grew acrid or shrill.  But, for whatever reasons, he stayed out of the limelight.  Because he never cared to learn to read music, he had turned down gigs with Benny Goodman and Woody Herman, preferring informal jamming.  He died in Poughkeepsie at 54.  The reference books I have say that he died of a heart attack, but I recall that having been mugged had something to do with his early death. 

Had he lived . . . alas.  And the recordings that have come out in the last few years — one a 1947 jazz concert where Windhurst and Jack Teagarden play beautifully alongside one another — are beautifully stirring, saying much about the musician we lost. 

These thoughts are motivated by a cyber-find: I haven’t given up on my quest for the 1946 “March of Time” clip featuring Dave Tough at Eddie Condon’s.  My quest led me to www.dailymotion.com., where trumpeter and film scholar Bob Erwig has posted excerpts from a 1958 “Jazz Party,” a television show hosted by jazz disc jockey Art Ford.  Ford’s program was simultaneously broadcast on the radio, so some diligent collectors have tapes that are as close to stereo as we shall get.  The programs tended to be informal to the point of messiness, with players ranging from Lester Young to Willie the Lion Smith to Mary Osborne and Teddy Charles.  Here is the only film footage of Windhurst, accompanied by pianist Roland Hanna, Osborne, bassist Mark Goldberg, and drummer Morey Feld (the last a particular favorite of our own Kevin Dorn).   

On this 1958 clip, an earnest Windhurst considers “Pennies From Heaven” in yearning style, reminding us of the pretty song that Bing Crosby, Hackett, and Louis explored.  In it, we see a player not afraid to take his time, to make beautiful sounds, to gently explore the melody.  It’s a lovely performance, and it doesn’t give up all its secrets on one viewing. 

Did any readers of this blog hear Johnny or play alongside him?  I would love to hear your memories.  Without them, who will remember Johnny Windhurst?

THREE CHEERS FOR PETER ECKLUND!

One of the pleasures of this blog is the attentive local correspondents who come bearing gifts of information and insight.  Marianne Mangan is the most recent addition to the unpaid Jazz Lives staff of roving reporters, and I hope she phones in her stories frequently!

Hi Michael,

What a night Monday is for the hot stuff! You’ve talked about Vince & the Nighthawks at Sofia’s, and we know about the Grove Street Stompers at Arthur’s (VERY good on Sunday, too, with the Creole Cooking Jazz Band), but here’s one more. On Monday night we (my “beloved” / husband is writer / one-time jazz critic Robert Levin) had occasion to hear the Stan Rubin Jazz All-Stars at Charley O’s Time Square Grill. The poster outside still shows Dan Levinson and Jon-Erik Kellso…not so and no matter. The multi-talented and always able Herb Gardner led on keyboard, with young Peter Reardon Anderson on clarinet and tenor sax, steady Steve Alcott on bass, Arnie Kinsella hammering those accents home on drums (and using brushes more than anyone around) and the remarkable Peter Ecklund on trumpet and four-valve flugelhorn. They swung and stomped their way through the likes of “Milenberg Joys,” “Who’s Sorry Now?,” “Big Butter & Egg Man” and “Oh, Baby,” pausing occasionally to temper  the heat with the out & out heart-melting: “One Hundred Years From Today” and “I Surrender, Dear.”

Ecklund played every song like he had a personal connection to it: so musical, so smart, sometimes sly, sometimes sweet, always accurate. He’s generous with the other players, leading them into phrasings that are unexpected and just right. They seemed happy for the inspiration and played like a tight unit, although he’s only with them once or twice a month.

Peter also plays with the Gotham Jazzmen on Wednesdays 12:30 to 2:00 at the Greenwich Village Bistro, 13 Carmine Street at Bleecker & 6th. With Jim Collier leading on trombone, Sam Parkins on clarinet, Dick Miller on piano and Peter on whatever he feels like (which was flugelhorn and ukelele last week), the old pros wove a spell around “Rosetta,” “Deed I Do,” “China Boy,” and more. Subtle, nuanced–lovely stuff.  Peter’s played like this every time I’ve seen him recently.  In person, he sounds like his CDs, made when he was the hot hand among cornet players.  I, for one, would like the opportunity to see him work a lot more.

Thanks for all the great information (and mood elevating, too!) you get out there, Michael!

Sincerely,

Marianne

A few more words about Peter Ecklund.  Perceptive, witty, and insightful, he’s been a jazz scholar of great renown — his work on Bix and Louis is hugely admired in the field and by his colleagues.  I first heard him on a Stomp Off vinyl issue, PETER ECKLUND AND THE MELODY MAKERS, which featured him in the congenial company of Dan Barrett, Ken Peplowski, Joe Muranyi, Barbara Dreiwitz, Marty Grosz, Eddy Davis — the finest players then in New York.  Happily, that CD has just been reissued as HORN OF PLENTY on the Classic Jazz label — eminently worthwhile listening, vigorous, lyrical, and hot.  Even when Peter puts down his horns on these sessions, his whistling on “Take Your Tomorrow” is reason enough to buy the CD.

I had the opportunity to hear him twice in 1990 in concerts held in Babylon, New York (no one’s idea of a jazz hotbed) with Muranyi, Grosz, and Barrett — wonderful stuff.  I remember with pleasure Muranyi’s singing of “Louisiana Fairy Tale,” which was still the theme song of THIS OLD HOUSE.  Days gone by!

I followed Peter’s playing through several Arbors CDs, and then caught up with him a few years ago — at the Cajun with the Gotham Jazzmen, with other pickup groups, and as a noble guest at the Ear Inn with Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri.  Peter has always had a variety of approaches — his early work had some of the tumbling bravado of Jabbo Smith balanced against the sweetness of Bix and Bobby Hackett.  When he used his mute, his personality as well as his sound changed, sometimes summoning up the growls and moans of the Thirties Ellington brass.  Peter always offered shining melodic improvisations that went in unexpected ways, and his recent playing, focused and fervent, is reminiscent of the delicate yet arching trajectories of Doc Cheatham.  I hope we hear Peter more and more . . . and that, like Doc, his playing career is long and delightful.  All hail a great talent!

As a postscript, at Marianne’s suggestion, I put on the Jazzology CD of 1994, ECKLUND AT ELKHART: Peter leading what might be The Perfect Band: Dan Barrett, Bobby Gordon, Mark Shane, Marty Grosz, Greg Cohen, and Hal Smith.  Music to rejoice by, and sorely needed, too.