Tag Archives: Herman Autrey

“RHYTHM COCKTAILS” FOR CHRIS (October 12)

Many people in the United States celebrate today in honor of Christopher Columbus.  (My college does not.)  I’m not planning to enter into charged historical dialogue except to say that we now know most of what we learned in elementary school was wrong or intentionally misleading, a pattern that continues onwards in education.  But that is a dark subject, which I will forego.

This is one kind of historical representation:

Portrait of a man said to be Christopher Columbus

Portrait of a man said to be Christopher Columbus

But I prefer this kind, created by Leon “Chu” Berry and Andy Razaf, music and words, in 1936:

CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS Henderson

A Roy Eldridge small group, a rejected take from 1936, with Roy (tp) Buster Bailey (cl) Chu Berry (ts) Teddy Cole (p) John Collins (g) John Kirby (b) Sidney Catlett (d):

The Fletcher Henderson band’s hit version in the same year, with Dick Vance (tp,arr) Joe Thomas, Roy Eldridge (tp) Fernando Arbello, Ed Cuffee (tb) Buster Bailey (cl,as) Scoops Carey (as) Skippy Williams, Chu Berry (ts) Horace Henderson (p,arr) Bob Lessey (g) John Kirby (b) Sidney Catlett (d):

and the 1937 attempt at a follow-up hit, with Dick Vance (tp,arr) Emmett Berry, Russell Smith (tp) John McConnell, Albert Wynn, Ed Cuffee (tb) Jerry Blake (cl,as,vcl,arr) Hilton Jefferson (cl,as) Skippy Williams, Chu Berry (cl,ts) Fletcher Henderson (p,arr) Lawrence “Larry” Lucie (g) Israel Crosby (b) Pete Suggs (d) Chuck Richards (vcl) Horace Henderson (arr):

A Buck Clayton Jam Session, 1953, with Buck, Joe Newman (tp) Urbie Green, Henderson Chambers (tb) Lem Davis (as) Julian Dash (ts) Charlie Fowlkes (bar) Sir Charles Thompson (p,celeste) Freddie Green (g) Walter Page (b) Jo Jones (d):

(I love that this record has a click in it, early and often.  Seems like old times.)

and the classic 1936 version by Fats Waller, with Herman Autrey (tp) Gene Sedric (cl,ts) Al Casey (g) Charlie Turner (b) Yank Porter (d):

and just to cool down, Maxine Sullivan in 1956, with Charlie Shavers (tp) Buster Bailey (cl) Jerome Richardson (as) Dick Hyman (p) Wendell Marshall (b) / Milt Hinton (b) Osie Johnson (d):

Professor Razaf tells us, “He used the rhythm as a compass.”  That’s something I can celebrate, as I hope you can.

May your happiness increase!

“TO IGNITE THE SPARK”: MR. WALLER’S ROMANTIC SONG (1937)

Recently there was a long, energetic discussion on Facebook, sparked by our friend, the superb young pianist Kris Tokarski (you can find it if you scroll down to March 31) on what attributes constitute a “jazz singer.” Bless him, Kris didn’t come to it with a narrow ideology; he wanted to open up a discussion, which he did.

I made mention of instrumentalists with “untrained” voices, and mentioned Hot Lips Page — then also Jimmy Rushing and Ivie Anderson.  But I forgot one of the finest singers of all, Thomas “Fats” Waller.

Most often, we think of Fats, at high volume,  shouting and carrying on — THE JOINT IS JUMPIN’, satirizing, parodying, mocking, clowning. But there was another side of him, heard all too infrequently: the dear romantic balladeer, treating a deserving song with great tenderness.

He does it here — with the 1937 I’M ALWAYS IN THE MOOD FOR YOU:

The lyrics aren’t memorable — in fact, they seem a winking collection of love-song-conceits — but the performance lingers because it is so close to the heart. Hear the long, leisurely piano chorus, Fats’ careful, endearing reading of the lyrics with only Herman Autrey whispering sweet nothings in back of him, and the return.  I think it’s fascinating that this take was issued, for clearly Fats got distracted or the lyric sheet slid off the piano, for there is a distinct near-crisis around three minutes in.  Whether Eli Oberstein said, “Look, we have six more sides to get done today,” or “Well, you made a mistake, Fats, but it’s so late in the record and the side is so beautiful, let’s leave it be,” I don’t know.  (It was the fifth side of nine recorded that day, so I suspect Fats was pressed to move on, even though there was this momentary lapse of attention.  I find the “mistake” completely endearing.)

I also wonder if Fats’ very tender delivery of the song was because it was written by Benny Davis (lyrics), a true veteran of the Brill Building, and Fats’ dear friend and eating buddy J. Fred Coots . . . whatever the motive, it is a very sweet performance and one that has stayed in my mind for years.

I hope you have someone you adore who can hear this recording — preferably seated right nearby — and know that the lyrics and melody are Cupid’s arrow, aimed tenderly but accurately.

May your happiness increase!

AMONG THE FAMOUS, A FEW REMAIN MYSTERIOUS

One of the most pleasures of JAZZ LIVES is that some people find it to offer information or to ask for help in solving mysteries. A few weeks ago I received a most pleasant email from a woman in the Middle West. Margaret had found JAZZ LIVES and hoped I could answer a few questions.

I’m writing to you because I think you may like jazz as much as my dad did. He loved jazz, had a huge record collection (now gone, sadly) and large library of jazz related books. One of them, Jazzmen, by Frederic Ramsey, Jr. and Charles Edward Smith, he took with him when he went to hear his favorite players, and got autographs.
 
It’s a very special book, with autographs from: Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Gene Krupa, Wild Bill Davison, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Marshall Brown, Pee Wee Russell, Herman Autrey (trumpet), George Wettling, Ruby Braff, Joe Sullivan (they were friends; Joe came to our house and he and dad exchanged Christmas cards) Jimmy MacPartland, Henry “Red” Allen, George Brunis, Meade “Lux” Lewis, Joe Venuti, Al Kipp, Muggsy Spanier, Eddie Condon, Bud Freeman.   
 
There’s also a  Jim? P…? or Dueguis?, and possibly Gene Gifford. Also interesting, under Pew Wee Russell’s name is “e e mudder”. Please can you help me fill in the blanks?
My time in the English Department was helpful, and I told Margaret that I thought “e e mudder” was Pee Wee’s take on the poet e e cummings, someone he might have met or read or certainly heard of in all those years playing south of Fourteenth Street in Greenwich Village. But although I’ve done a good amount of handwriting-deciphering for book projects (as well as trying to figure out what my students might be writing in their untrained calligraphy) I couldn’t solve the mysteries. Perhaps JAZZ LIVES’ readers can?
Here are several pages from the writer’s father’s copy of JAZZMEN.
jazzpg1
Left, Marshall Brown, Pee Wee Russell and his alter ego, e e mudder, Herman Autrey, George Wettling, Ruby Braff.
Right, Joe Sullivan, Jimmy McPartland, Eddie Condon, Henry “Red” Allen.
jazzpg2
Left, Louis Armstrong in green, Earl Fatha Hines in red, and . . . Jim Deeguis?
News flash: my friend Kris Bauwens says the mysterious signature isn’t so mysterious: it’s Dizzy Gillespie.
Right, Bud Freeman, Jack Teagarden, Gene Krupa, Wild Bill Davison.
jazzpg3

Left, possibly Zutty Singleton, certainly Georg Brunis, Meade Lux Lewis, Joe Venuti.
Right, Al Kipp, Muggsy Spanier.
Any suggestions about “Jim Deeguis”? and perhaps-Zutty Singleton?  And some biography on Al Kipp? Thanks to Margaret for searching me out, and thanks for the devoted Phil, who had such friends . . .
May your happiness increase!

RHYTHM, THEN BIRDSONG: MICHAEL BURGEVIN (1936-2014)

The heroes and the people we cherish forever don’t always have their names written in huge capital letters. But we know who they are.

One of them was the drummer, artist, raconteur, dear friend and gracious man Michael Burgevin. We lost him — abruptly, of a sudden heart attack — on June 17, 2014.  If you look in Tom Lord’s discography, the listing of official recordings MB (how he signed his emails — a man with things to do!) made is brief, but that is in no way a measure of his effect, his swing, his sweet presence.

MB and Cornelius, 2001, by Penny Haddad

MB and Cornelius, 2001, by Penny Haddad

I had met Mike in 1973, in New York City, and although we were out of touch for about twenty years, he was always in my thoughts as someone I was grateful to.

Because I miss him and admire him — first as a musician, then as a generous friend, then as a thinker who knows and feels the truth — what follows below is the leisurely narrative of my friend MB. The dates are fuzzy, my feelings sharply realized.

When I met him in 1973, I was a college student, deeply involved in jazz, without much money to spend on it. But I read in The New Yorker that there was a little bar / restaurant on East 34th Street, Brew’s, that featured live hot jazz.

You can read more about Brew’s here — on a blog called LOST CITY — with MB’s comments.

I read the names of Max Kaminsky and Jack Fine. I didn’t know about Jimmy Andrews, piano, and Mike Burgevin, drums. But when I saw a listing that advertised “trumpeter Joe Thomas,” I began to pay attention.

Joe Thomas remains one of the great subtle players in the swing idiom, recording with Benny Carter, Ed Hall, Don Byas, Sidney Catlett, Art Tatum, Claude Hopkins, and many other luminaries: he was one of Harry Lim’s favorite players and gets a good deal of exposure on Keynote Records.

I worried that my trip to Brew’s would turn out to be a jazz mirage; how could one of my heroes be playing in a club just ten minutes from Penn Station?  “Joe Thomas” is a very plain name, but I got myself out of my suburban nest, brought my cassette recorder (of course) and came to Brew’s. When I came in the door, the sounds told me I was in the right place.  Not only was Joe on the stand, instantly recognizable, but he had Rudy Powell and Herb Hall with him; Jimmy Andrews was striding sweetly and quietly.

The man behind the drums was tall, elegantly dressed.  His hairline receding, he looked a little like a youthful Bing Crosby without his hat on.  And he sounded as if he’d gone to the magic well of Swing: without copying them, I heard evocations of Dave Tough and George Wettling, of Sidney Catlett and Zutty Singleton: a light, swinging, effortless beat.  Quietly intent but restrained, with not too much flash and self-dramatization.  He didn’t play anything that would have been out of place on a Commodore 78 but it seemed fresh, not a collection of learned gestures and responses.  I can hear his hi-hat and rimshots as I write this, his brushes on the snare drum.  He was leading the band, but he let the men on the stand direct traffic: in retrospect, he was a true Condonite, letting the music blossom as it would.

I was shy then, but I got my courage together and spoke to him — I must have seemed an unusual apparition, a college student breathless with enthusiasm about swing drumming and especially about Sidney Catlett.  I had just purchased the three records (from England) of the complete 1944 Metropolitan Opera House Jam Session, and I asked Mr. Burgevin if he had them or would like a tape of that concert.  He hadn’t known of this music (like many musicians, he loved hearing new things but wasn’t an obsessive collector himself). And so we arranged something: perhaps I asked him for a copy of the records he had made with Doc Cheatham.

That night, Joe Thomas took a solo on a set-ending CRAZY RHYTHM, and although Joe is no longer with us, and the performance is now forty years away, I can hum the beginning of his solo, upon request.  To say the music I heard that night made an impression is putting it mildly.

Memory is treacherous, but what I remember next is being invited to the apartment he and his wife Patty  — Patricia Doyle, if we are being formal — shared on East 33rd Street in an apartment building called The Byron. At some point MB persuaded me to stop calling him “Mr. Burgevin,” and I was made welcome. And often. I had been brought up to be polite, but I blush to think of how many meals I ate in their apartment, how long I stayed, how much time I spent there.

Often MB was at work on a piece of commercial art in his little studio, wedged in a corner: I played the records he had or the ones I had just bought for him. Louis, Bing, Condon, stride piano, Billie, Bud Freeman and his Chicagoans, Dave Tough, Lee Wiley, Mildred Bailey. We had much to talk about, and I learned to hear more under his gentle tutelage. We didn’t speak of anything deep: I don’t think I knew how at that time, skating over the surface of my life, moving from one small triumph or failure to the next. But we admired J. Fred Coots’ YOU WENT TO MY HEAD and other beauties.

(I cringe now to think that MB and Patty might have liked to be left in peace a little more.  I wonder how many meals were stretched to include a hungry guest.  When, in this century, I apologized to MB  and Patty for my late-adolescent oblivious gaucheries, they said they remembered nothing of the sort. I take this as a great kindness.)

Chicken cacciatore, Dave Tough, a feisty little terrier named Rex, are all inextricably combined in my mind. I can see that rectangular apartment now.  MB lent me records and books, tapes and other music-related treasures, and in general made his house mine, open-handedly and open-heartedly.

In ways I didn’t verbalize then, I felt his kindness, although I didn’t at the time understand how powerfully protective the umbrella was. It was all subtle, never dramatic. One thing MB encouraged me to do was to bring recording equipment along to gigs he was playing. And (again in this century) he told me this story that I had not been aware of while it was happening. One night at Brew’s, the musicians were MB, the Welsh pianist Dill Jones, and Kenny Davern, then alternating between clarinet and soprano saxophone.  Blithely, I came in, said hello to MB, and began setting up my reel-to-reel recorder. Davern turned to MB and said — out of my hearing, but referring to me, “WHAT is THAT?” and MB told Kenny to calm down, that I was a friend, not to worry about me.  As a result, Kenny, with some polite irascibility, showed me where to set up my microphone for better results. Now I know that he would have just as energetically told me where the microphone could be placed, but for MB’s quiet willingness to protect his young friend, myself.

In the next two years, I was able to hear Joe Thomas, Doc Cheatham, Al Hall, Al Casey, Vic Dickenson (at length), Ruby Braff, Sam Margolis, Wayne Wright, Red Richards, Dick Wellstood, Susannah McCorkle, Norman Simmons, and a dozen others at close range. MB shared his tape library with me, so I heard him as a glowing, uplifting presence with Herman Autrey, Bobby Gordon, Benny Morton, Bobby Hackett, and others. He delighted especially in the sounds of Fats Waller and his Rhythm, and took every advantage possible to get together with Jimmy Andrews, Al Casey, Herman Autrey, and Rudy Powell to recapture some of that jovial spirit.

MB told stories of spending time with Vic Dickenson, of how Bobby Hackett insisted he play sticks, not brushes, behind him, of meeting Pee Wee Russell late in the latter’s life, and a favorite anecdote of an early encounter with Cliff Leeman at Condon’s, in the eraly Fifties, when MB was on leave from the Merchant Marine (I think): he had come into Condon’s and was listening to the band, which then took a break. Leeman stepped down from the drums and MB asked politely if he could sit in with the intermission players — Steve Lacy on soprano saxophone and Ralph Sutton, piano.  Leeman, always tart, said to MB, “Whaddaya want to do with the drums? Fuck ’em all up?” but he let MB play.

Here is a photograph of Michael Burgevin, young, jamming on board the USS IOWA, circa 1955-7:

MIKE 1955-57 USS IOWA

My friendly contact stopped abruptly when MB had a heart attack. I was terrified of going to a hospital to visit anyone (I have said earlier in the piece that I was young, perhaps far too young). Before I could muster the maturity to visit him, he and Patty seemed, as if in a snap of the fingers, to flee the city for points unknown upstate.  I wondered about him in those years, heard his music, and thought of him with love — but we had drifted apart.

We reconnected around 1997, and I am sure I can’t take credit for it, for I felt guilty for my emotional lapses.  I think that Vic Diekenson drew us together once again, through the research Manfred Selchow was doing for his book, and MB got in touch with me when he planned to come down to New York City to play on a Monday night with the Grove Street Stompers at Arthur’s Tavern. Once before, he had played with that group. I don’t know who else was in the band, but I recorded a version of HINDUSTAN that had MB stretching out for a long solo in the manner of STEAK FACE.

I didn’t have sufficient opportunities to video-capture MB at play in this century, although there are examples of him on YouTube with his concert presentation of three men at drumsets “drumatiCymbalism” — but here is a 2009 video he made to promote his concerts and his paintings.  It seems odd to hear him gently trying to get gigs, but it is a good all-around picture of Michael Burgevin, his sound (solo and in an ensemble with Warren Vache, Dan Block, Harry Allen, Howard Alden, and others) and it gives glimpses of his paintings:

A few years ago, MB seriously mastered the computer and moved from writing letters to writing emails, and we stayed in contact, sometimes several times a week, that way. I sent him music and jazz arcana, and we had deep philosophical conversations — the ones I had not been ready for in the early Seventies. I hadn’t known that he had become a Jehovah’s Witness (as had Trummy Young and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Joe Thomas and Babe Matthews) but our discussions were fervent, even when we were gently disagreeing about our views of the world. Recently he burst forth of Facebook, and had a delighted time sharing photographs of his friends from the old days.

If Ricky Riccardi posted some new Louis / Sidney Catlett on his blog, I forwarded it to MB, and we shared our joy and excitement often. A few years ago, he came down to New York City to meet the Beloved, and he and our mutual friend Romy Ashby had lunch together.  MB was beautifully dressed and as always sweetly gallant.

It was foolish of me to think we would always have our email conversations, or another meeting in person, but we never want the people we love to move to another neighborhood of existence. I know he read JAZZ LIVES and delighted in the videos and photographs of the men and women we both revered. That thought gave and continues to give me pleasure.

He wrote a little self-portrait more than a decade ago:
As a child was riveted by marching band drums in firemen’s parades on Long Island. Born with rhythm! Given a pair of drumsticks at age seven and a 1920’s style trap set at age 15 and began his professional career playing weekends at Stanbrook Resort in Dutchess Co. (NYS) Played with bands in high school and at Bard College. Strongly influenced by his uncle George Adams’ jazz collection of 78’s (rpm records). Studied drums in Pine Plains High School (1950’s) and later under Richard Horowitz percussionist with the Metropolitan Opera Symphony Orchestra (1970’s). Studied (and uses) many of the early African tribal rhythms- Dinka, Bini, Malinke, Bakwiri, Watusi. About 10 years away from music working as a freelance commercial artist and graphic designer. Returned to drumming in 1968. Spent many nights sitting in at famed Jazz clubs Jimmy Ryan’s on 57th Street and Eddie Condon’s 55th St. There met legends Zutty Singleton, Freddie Moore, and Morey Feld often subbing for them. Lived in Manhattan. Worked steadily at Ryan’s with Max Kaminsky’s band. Also became friends with George Wettling, Cliff Leeman and Jo Jones. Worked full time with almost all the titans of small band jazz during this period of time (late 1960’s through 1980’s) including Roy Eldridge, “Wild Bill” Davison, “Doc” Cheatham, Bobby Hackett, Claude Hopkins, Bobby Gordon, Marian and Jimmy McPartland. Toured Canada & USA with Davison’s Jazz Giants. Made Bainbridge, NY, situated on the beautiful Susquehanna River, a permanent residence in the 1990’s. Traveled to NYC for many engagements. Connected with Al Hamme, professor of Jazz Studies at SUNY Binghamton, playing several concerts there. Since 2001 has been producing Jazz concerts in the 100-year-old, Historic Town Hall Theatre in Bainbridge, featuring world-class jazz personalities: Kenny Davern, Warren Vaché, Peter Ecklund, James Chirillo, Joe Cohn, Howard Alden, Harry Allen, Joel Forbes, Phil Flanigan, Dan Block and many, many others.

Why do I write so much about this man?

Michael Burgevin seems to me to be the embodiment of kind generosity. Near me, as I write, I have a little 1933 autograph book full of inscriptions of jazz musicians that he bought and gave to me. Invaluable, like its owner.

But MB’s giving was more than the passing on of objects: he gave of himself so freely, whether he was behind the drum set or just sharing ideas and feelings. Reading these words, I hope his warmth and gentle nature comes through, his enthusiasm for Nature and for human nature, for the deep rhythms of the world and the way a good jazz ensemble could make us feel even more that life was the greatest privilege imaginable. A deeply spiritual man, he preached the most sustaining gospel without saying a word.

I have a story I can only call mystical to share. Yesterday, on the morning of the 17th, I was writing a blogpost — which you can read here. I had indulged myself in the techno-primitive activity of video-recording a spinning record so that I could share the sounds on JAZZ LIVES.  It was a slow blues featuring, among others, Joe Thomas and Pee Wee Russell, two of MB’s and my heroes. Through the open window, the softer passages had an oddly delightful counterpoint of birdsong, something you can hear on my video. I was not thinking about MB while I was videoing — I was holding my breath, listening to music and birdsong mixed — but now I think that strange unearthly yet everyday combination may have been some part of MB’s leaving this earthly realm — music from the hearts of men now no longer with us overlaid by the songs of the birds, conversing joyously.

Patty, Michael’s wife, tells me that the funeral will be Friday, June 20, at the C.H. Landers Funeral Home in Sidney, New York (the place name is appropriate for those who understand): the visitation at noon, the service at 1 PM. Landers is on 21 Main Street, Sidney, New York 13838. (607) 563-3545.

Adieu for now, Michael Burgevin. Kind friend, lovely generous man, beautiful musician.  Born January 10, 1936. Made the transition June 17, 2014.

It seems odd to close this remembrance in the usual way — but someone like MB increases my happiness, even in sadness, that I will continue as I always have.  May you, too, have people like him in your life, and — more importantly — may you be one of the loving Elders to others, and older brother or sister or friend who shelters someone who might not, at the time, even recognize the love he or she is being shown.

May your happiness increase!

RECORDING CALIFORNIA, PART TWO (March 28-29, 2013)

To “record” means to remember, to make sure something is not forgotten; Hamlet writes new revelations down in his tablets; I do the same in JAZZ LIVES.  But “records” mean more than just ethereal memories; they mean the very objects that contain and preserve these memories — in this case, musical ones. So here are a few words and a half-dozen pictures to celebrate music and remembering.

RECORDS PLUS 3 29 13 California 004

I revisited Mill Valley Music and had a sweet wandering hilarious conversation with the owner, Gary, who used to work at Village Music.  We spoke of the horrors of water damage, of earbuds, of shifting tastes in music.  In between, I crawled around the store and found one treasure.

RECORDS PLUS 3 29 13 California 005

The topography.

RECORDS PLUS 3 29 13 California 006

Another view, with treasure.

RECORDS PLUS 3 29 13 California 007

That recording comes from 1957 or 8 — Wettling along with Herman Autrey, Vic Dickenson, Herb Hall, Gene Schroeder, and Leonard Gaskin, which would have been some version of the house band at Eddie Condon’s.  I haven’t heard this one in years (it’s in stereo, too) but suspect that the anonymous / uncounted member of the “Windy City Seven” — the name under which Condon and friends made the first sides for Commodore — is Mister Condon himself, under contract to Columbia.  We shall see if I hear his distinctive strumming in the ensembles.

Today, the Beloved and I took another day trip to Sebastopol and environs.  Highlights: nurseries, fine lunch at a strip-mall Nepalese / Himalayan restaurant, and visits to a number of antique shops.  At the second one (it may have had no name, just a sign saying FURNITURE and DEPRESSION GLASS) I spotted a pile of 78s in the corner.

The most popular 78s are still red-label Columbias or early Victors.  This was different.  I could have bought twice as much, but reason, space, and a desire to leave something for another jazz-fixated collector held me back.  But (drum roll) the first disc:

RECORDS PLUS 3 29 13 California 015

The other side, TIGER RAG, suggests great things are in store.

RECORDS PLUS 3 29 13 California 016

The original 12″ 78s in their paper sleeve — heard but never seen before in their primal state.

RECORDS PLUS 3 29 13 California 017

The reissue of A NIGHT AT THE BILTMORE — no picture, but I’ll close my eyes.

RECORDS PLUS 3 29 13 California 018

A two-disc album — a Bob Zurke Memorial with note by Barry Ulanov — four piano solos taken from a 1943 broadcast and a private session: BODY AND SOUL / WORKIN’ MY WAY / HOW AM I TO KNOW? / WHO ARE YOU?

Someone had good taste, and I feel very fortunate to be in the right places at the right time.  Oh.  How much did all this cost?  Two days, thirteen dollars.  Keep looking for treasures: they exist!

May your happiness increase.

EXTREMELY HEALTHY FATS! (THANKS TO JEFF BARNHART and FRIENDS)

No, not these.

avocado

Or this.

olive-oil

They are certainly good for you.  But I mean this.

fats jeff

It’s a recent CD on the Lake Records label, under the leadership of the irresistibly talented pianist / singer / arranger Jeff Barnhart, with the assistance of four wonderful players, who summon up all the many sides and angles of Thomas “Fats” Waller with love rather than caricature.

By “caricature” I mean that Fats Waller was — by definition — a powerful personality, but someone who could be reduced to a series of outlandish gestures by musicians who didn’t understand him very well: rapid-fire showy stride piano, high-power clowning and singing, all the “let’s have a party in three minutes” we hear on many of his recordings.  Those “tributes,” and I’ve heard them, begin with the derby cocked over one eve, the same four or five songs, and they end at high volume.  To quote Chubby Jackson on a satirical record circa 1945, “Wasn’t that swell?”

But the essence of Fats Waller is more subtle and more varied than any clownish portrait in broad strokes, and Jeff Barnhart — an improviser / entertainer who gets beneath the obvious surfaces — has long understood that Waller was equal parts stride virtuoso and soulful musician — singer, pianist, composer. . . someone with a heart as large as his famous girth.  This isn’t to say that REFLECTIONS OF FATS doesn’t swing — but that it shows a deep awareness of Fats Waller’s depths.  Jeff hasn’t devoted himself entirely to the esoteric: the disc offers AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW, YOUR FEET’S TOO BIG, BLUE  TURNING GREY OVER YOU, THE JOINT IS JUMPIN’, and TWELFTH STREET RAG — but it also gives us the lesser-known compositions: a meaty RUMP STEAK SERENADE, KEEP A SONG IN YOUR SOUL, HOLD MY HAND, MOPPIN’ AND BOPPIN’, MY FATE IS IN YOUR HANDS.  Three great delights of this disc are YOU MUST BE LOSING YOUR MIND (by Fats and Ed Kirkeby), AT TWILIGHT, and DO YOU HAVE TO GO? (both composed by Fats and his wife Anita).  AT TWILIGHT alone is sweetly memorable.

Jeff Barnhart is a splendid stride pianist, swing pianist, and bandleader — his ensemble playing, his support of soloists, is both uplifting and delicious.  And his singing is both original and Waller-imbued: he has some of the Master’s insinuating nasal croon that makes a Barnhart vocal both compelling theatre and a great deal of fun.  He doesn’t need the derby, in short.  On this CD he has assembled a neat band (shades of Fats’ Bluebird / Victor “Rhythm” but even more compact) of UK swing stars: John Hallam, reeds; Jamie Brownfield, trumpet; Bruce Rollo, string bass; Nick Ward, drums.  The latter two are a better rhythm team than you’d hear on some Thirties recordings — having seen them in tandem and individually at Whitley Bay, I know they are solid senders.  Nick Ward is sometimes pigeonholed as a “vintage drummer,” someone restricted by law and decency to his temple blocks, but he can swing out in the best style: Slick Jones would be proud.  John Hallam can boot things along in the appropriately vehement manner, but I was most impressed by his tender, quiet playing (I thought of Harold Ashby) on the slower numbers.  And Jamie Brownfield was only nineteen when this CD was made.  He is a great player now, and I hope to hear more from him.  And — as an aside — no one copies Autrey or Sedric here.

It’s a wonderful CD, full of surprises — with lovely annotations by Ray Smith and delightful recorded sound.  You can obtain a copy here  — I gather it is also available on iTunes, if this little band can fit in your earbuds.  Consult with your audiologist first.

Now, I don’t have something that directly pertains to REFLECTIONS OF FATS to share with you . . . . but I can offer this.  Jeff and his wife Anne (a splendid flautist and singer) who bill themselves as IVORY AND GOLD, have recently posted some performance videos on Jeff’s brand-new YouTube  channel. With their playful seriousness and serious playfulness, they make music that Mr. Waller would have liked.

Here’s their version — too short! — of AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

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.

DRUMATIC CYMBALISM is COMING!

Artist Alex Craver, Mike Burgevin, and Sadiq Abdu Shahid

“DRUMATIC CYMBALISM” CONCERT SERIES

May – October 2011, Stamford, New York

Two of Central New York’s top kit drummers will perform six concerts of  spell-binding rhythms and creative drumming. The focus will be The American Drum Kit from the 1930’s until the present day.

Professional drumming is a way of life for these seasoned performers “Mike” Burgevin and Sadiq Abdu Shahid (formerly Archie Taylor, Jr.).

“Sadiq,”who resides with his family on their farm in Masonville, New York, was born and raised in the Midwest and studied with Cleveland Symphony Orchestra percussionist Charles Wilcoxon.  He performed and recorded with many famous avant-garde jazzmen: Pharaoh Sanders, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, and Cecil Taylor (among others) and was a resident drummer for Motown Records in Detroit, there recording many albums backing R&B groups.

His father, Archie Taylor, Sr., was also a famous drummer accompanying Lou Rawls, Nancy Wilson, and the one and only Billie Holiday.

Michael “Mike” Burgevin, now a resident of Bainbridge, New York, began drumming professionally at age 15.  From the mid 1960’s through the 1980’s he worked regularly at famous NYC jazz clubs, Jimmy Ryan’s, Sweet Basil, Eddie Condon’s, and Brew’s side by side with many of the great jazz “Swing” players (now legends) Max Kaminsky, “Doc” Cheatham, Jimmy and Marian McPartland, Roy Eldridge, Wild Bill Davison, Warren Vaché and many, many others.

He has had the honor and privilege of playing with Joe Thomas, Herman Autrey, Vic Dickenson, Bobby Hackett, Benny Morton, Bobby Gordon, Rudy Powell, Dill Jones, Dick Wellstood, Al Casey, and many others.  It was my privilege to see him swing the band every time he started a gentle beat with his brushes or tapped his closed hi-hat.

Mike studied with Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra percussionist Richard Horowitz.  He also performed in several of the “Journey in Jazz” concerts with saxophonist Al Hamme in Binghamton University’s Anderson Center as well as producing many jazz concerts in the historic Town Hall Theatre in Bainbridge between 2001 and 2007.

No two DRUMNASTIC CYMBALISM concerts are ever the same!

Drumming becomes a musical art form in the hands of these outstanding percussionists.  A show may begin with “Curious Curlicues & Nimble Noodles” then move to whisper-quiet ruffs and other rudiments… then pass through sonorous tonalities before roaring into layered polyrhythmic styles of Jazz, and Free Form drumming.  Sadiq and Mike totally explore the drum set with all its possibilities.  Their concerts open with a brief discourse on the history and development of the drum and the evolution of various styles of drumming.

A Master Creative Drum Workshop will take place on July 16th from 3:00 to 5:00 at The Gallery East, 71 Main Street, Stamford, NY.  Workshop fee is $25. Students should bring sticks, a practice pad or snare drum and stand.

Questions?  Call The Gallery in Stamford at 607 652 4030.

Before the concerts: Come early and enjoy dining in one of Stamford’s fine restaurants.  Then visit artist Timothy Touhey’s two galleries, both located on Main Street (Route 23).

You will be uplifted by the art and music!

So mark your calendar: May 21st / June 18th / July16th / August 21st / Sept.17th / Oct.15th — Performances begin at 7:00. Tickets at the door are $10.00 / $8.00 in advance.

For information in advance call:   THE GALLERY EAST 71 MAIN ST. STAMFORD, NY @ 607 652 4030.   On the day of the concert please call 607 353 2492.   Tour The Gallery at www.touhey.com.

BREATHING THE SAME AIR

Were I a different sort of person, I could blame my parents, who were lovingly overprotective.  I could be irked at them now for not encouraging me to leave my suburban nest at 14 or 15 to go into New York City.  Had they been more adventurous souls themselves, I might have seen Red Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Rex Stewart in the flesh.  But by the time I began to make the trek, Ben Webster had left for Europe; Coleman Hawkins had died. 

Rather than lament the ones I’ve missed, I will list the names of the heroic players and singers  — now dead — I did get to see.

Trumpets / cornets: Louis Armstrong, Bobby Hackett, Buck Clayton, Ruby Braff, Sweets Edison, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Ray Nance, Louis Metcalf, Herman Autrey, Doc Cheatham, Pat Jenkins, Joe Newman, Joe Thomas, Max Kaminsky, Wild Bill Davison, Pee Wee Erwin, Dick Sudhalter, Yank Lawson, Billy Butterfield, Jimmy McPartland, Johnny Windhurst, Taft Jordan, Franc Williams, Jimmy Maxwell.

Trombones: Vic Dickenson, Dicky Wells, Benny Morton, Bobby Pratt, Georg Brunis, Dick Rath, Tyree Glenn, Eli Robinson.

Reeds: Benny Goodman, Stan Getz, Al Klink, Herb Hall, Kenny Davern, Sal Pace, Russell Procope, Benny Carter, Johnny Mince, Bud Freeman, Buddy Tate, Phil Bodner, Sam Margolis, Harold Ashby, Earle Warren, Rudy Rutherford, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Clifford Jordan, Rudy Powell, Budd Johnson, Eddie Barefield, Lockjaw Davis, Allen Eager, Barney Bigard, Paul Quinichette, Illinois Jacquet, George Kelly.

Pianos: Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Count Basie, Claude Hopkins, Dill Jones, Dick Wellstood, Ralph Sutton, Jane Jarvis, Hank Jones, John Bunch, Jimmy Rowles, Eubie Blake, Mary Lou Williams, Bill Evans, Ross Tompkins, Joe Bushkin, Ellis Larkins, Sammy Price, Art Hodes.

Guitars: Eddie Condon, Freddie Green, Wayne Wright, Herb Ellis, Al Casey, Bernard Addison, Carmen Mastren, George Barnes.

Basses: Milt Hinton, George Duvivier, Charles Mingus, Al Hall, Bill Pemberton, Gene Ramey, Jack Lesberg, Bob Haggart, Franklyn Skeete.

Drums: Jo Jones, Gene Krupa, Cliff Leeman, Chauncey Morehouse, Buzzy Drootin, Tommy Benford, Oliver Jackson, Eddie Locke, Sonny Greer, Sam Woodyard, Gus Johnson, Jake Hanna, Connie Kay, Freddie Moore.

Vibraphone (or Vibraharp): Lionel Hampton, Red Norvo.

Violin: Joe Venuti.

Vocals: Jimmy Rushing, Helen Humes, Lee Wiley, Bing Crosby, Al Hibbler, Maxine Sullivan.

I miss them all, but feel so fortunate that I was there to breathe the same air, to hear their sounds.

WHAT, NO CAKE? (April 22, 2010)

There are Underrated Musicians, Musicians Deserving Wider Recognition, Neglected Musicians, and Ignored Musicians.

Here’s a picture of a very fine jazz individualist, born one hundred years ago today.  How many people will recognize him?

“That’s BUZZY DROOTIN!” I hear some of my readers saying.  Right you are. 

Buzzy played most often with Eddie Condon’s bands — in the club and on records — but you can also hear him with Ruby Braff, George Wein’s Newport All-Stars, Max Kaminsky, Sidney Bechet, Jack Teagarden, Vic Dickenson, Jimmy McPartland, Ralph Sutton, Wild Bill Davison, Herman Autrey, Herb Hall, Claude Hopkins, Benny Morton, Pee Wee Russell, and family members Al and Sonny Drootin. 

I was lucky enough to see him at close — sometimes deafening range — in 1972, at the Sunday afternoon jam sessions run by Red Balaban at Your Father’s Mustache.  We sat right up in front of the bandstand, so Buzzy and his drums were about ten feet away, and his characteristic snare and ride-cymbal work drove the band.  His playing wasn’t fussy; he didn’t make aural jokes as did Jo Jones — but his tempos never faltered, and he had immense energy.  His sound was entirely his own, and I can still hear and see in my mind’s eye the simultaneous open-mouthed sounds (somewhere between a roar and a growl) that he made in the last sixteen bars of his solo. 

His intensity was remarkable: I never saw George Wettling or Dave Tough in the flesh, but Buzzy had some of that same “I don’t care!” energy and ferocity.  Yet who remembers him today? 

Kevin Dorn met Buzzy and celebrates him in his own playing, of course. 

I would like to take credit for remembering his birthday, his centenary, but I have to give credit to Confetta Ras and her magnificent ON THIS DAY IN JAZZ AGE MUSIC website (one of the most generous cornucopias I’ve ever seen) for reminding us all of what April 22 is all about (http://jazzagemusic.blogspot.com/). 

P.S.  I know I have among my readers not only people who’ve heard Buzzy but also those rare folks who have played alongside him.  Comments and celebrations, anyone?

“CONCERNING POPS”

This passage comes from an article about Louis Armstrong by the Swiss jazz historian Johnny Simmen; the article appeared in a 1973 issue of CODA devoted to Louis.  “Herman” is Herman Autrey, the trumpet star of Fats Waller and his Rhythm.

One night, in October 1961, a friend of Herman’s quoted some writer’s opinion about the present-day Louis Armstrong’s stage manners (which he disliked and qualified as being ‘Uncle Tom-ish’) and his playing (which he called ‘uncreative’ and being ‘a mere shadow of the Armstrong of the 20s’).  My wife and I have often spoken of Herman’s reaction which was so impressive that we both haven’t forgotten either his facial expression–which became all threatening and tense–or the words that followed: ‘You better tell this guy to mind his own business and stop talking about things he doesn’t understand!  Louis is the greatest artist and man that I know and as long as he chooses to stay in music, he will be unsurpassed!’ (The mother bear defending her baby bear couldn’t have been more involved than Herman putting things right concerning Pops.)  We realized there and then that as much as Herman loved Fats, Louis Armstrong was even closer and meant even more to him.  A most moving experience.”

Thanks to Ricky Riccardi for finding the source of this quotation, “a most moving experience,” indeed.

REMEMBERING JOE THOMAS

The trumpeter Joseph Eli Thomas — fabled but truly little-known — is almost always confused with his higher-profile namesake, who played tenor sax and sang in the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. 

But a quick scan of the people our Joe Thomas played with should suggest that his colleagues thought very highly of him.  How about Fats Waller, James P. Johnson, Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Johnny Guarneri, Earl Hines, Fletcher Henderson, Sidney Catlett, Coleman Hawkins, Jack Teagarden, Bud Freeman, Ed Hall, Vic Dickenson, Red Norvo, Roy Eldridge, Emmett Berry, Cozy Cole, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Claude Hopkins,  Buddy Tate, Pee Wee Russell, Tony Scott, Buck Clayton, Woody Herman, Trummy Young, Rudy Powell, Eddie Condon, Benny Carter, Jo Jones, Benny Morton, Al Hall . . . . ?  Clearly a man well-respected.  But he is an obscure figure today. 

He can be seen as a member of Art Kane’s famous 1958 Harlem street assemblage.  Shirtsleeved and hatless, he stands with Maxine Sullivan and Jimmy Rushing to one side, with Stuff Smith on the other.  Fast company, although the sun must have been bothering him, for he looks worried. 

In another world, Thomas would have had little reason to worry, but he came up in jazz when hot trumpeters seemed to spring out from every bush.  To his left, Red Allen and Rex Stewart; to the right, Bill Coleman, Emmett Berry, Bobby Hackett.  Rounding the corner, Buck Clayton, Cootie Williams, Benny Carter, Frank Newton.   So the competition was fierce.  And Thomas often had the bad fortune to be overshadowed: in Fletcher Henderson’s 1936 CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS band — the one that recorded extensively for Victor and Vocalion — his section-mate was a fireball named Eldridge.  In Fats Waller’s big band, Thomas played section trumpet and the prize solos in Fats’ Rhythm went to Herman Autrey or Bugs Hamilton.  And then there was a colossus named Armstrong, apparently blocking out the sun.  John Hammond was busy championing other players, all worthy, and never got around to pushing Joe Thomas into the limelight.  Although he recorded prolifically as a sideman, he never had a record date under his own name after 1946. 

But Thomas got himself heard now and again: his solos shine on Decca recordings (alongside Chu Berry) under Lil Armstrong’s name, and on a famous Big Joe Turner date for the same label that featured Art Tatum and Ed Hall.  On the much more obscure Black and White label, he recorded alongside Tatum and Barney Bigard; for Jamboree, he was captured side-by-side with Don Byas, Dave Tough, and Ted Nash. 

Later in his career, the British jazz scholar Albert McCarthy featured him on a Vic Dickenson session (Vic, like Tatum, seems to have admired Joe’s quiet majesty), and he popped up on sessions in the Fifties and Sixties in the best company.  Whitney Balliett celebrated him in an essay, and the drummer Mike Burgevin used him on gigs whenever he could.

Thomas’s most important champion has to have been the Javanese jazz enthusiast and record producer Harry Lim, whose biography should be written — producing jam sessions and heading one of the finest record labels ever — Keynote — then shepherding another label, Famous Door, through perhaps a dozen issues in the Seventies.  I gather that his day job was as head of the jazz record section in the Manhattan Sam Goody store: probably I saw him, but was too young and uninformed to make the connection. 

Lim loved Thomas’s playing and featured him extensively on sessions between 1944 and 1946.  Regrettably those sessions were reissued in haphazard fashion in the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies — vinyl anthologies on the Emarcy and Trip labels — then in a wonderful box set first appearing in Japan, then briefly in the US, then disappearing for good.  A number of compilations drawn from that set — featuring Hawkins, Eldridge, Norvo, and Young — made it to CD but seem to have gone out of circulation.  And wise collectors aren’t putting them up on eBay.  Thomas also appears on a few sessions for the HRS (Hot Record Society) label, and those sessions have been collected in a Mosaic box set, which I believe is still available — although the Keynotes show him off far better. 

What made Thomas so special?  His tone was luminous but dark, rich — not shallow and glossy or brassy.  His notes sang; he placed his notes a shade behind the beat, giving the impression of having all the time in the world at a fast tempo.  Like Jack Teagarden, he wasn’t an improviser who started afresh with every new solo.  Thomas had his favorite patterns and gestures, but he didn’t repeat himself.  Listening to him when he was on-form was beautifully satisfying: he sounded like a man who had edited out all the extraneous notes in his head before beginning to play.  His spaces meant something, and a Thomas solo continued to resonate in one’s head for a long time.  I can still hear his opening notes of a solo he took on CRAZY RHYTHM on a New York gig in 1974. 

What made his style so memorable wasn’t simply his tone — a marvel in itself — or his pacing, steady but never sluggish.  It was his dual nature: he loved upward-surging arpeggios that spelled out the chord in a gleaming way, easy but urgent.  Occasionally he hit the same note a few times in a delicate, chiming way (much more Beiderbecke than Sweets Edison) — and then, while those notes rang in the air, he would play something at one-quarter volume, which had the shape of a beautiful half-muttered epigram, something enclosed in parentheses, which you had to strain to hear.  That balance between declarations and intimacy shaped many a memorable solo. 

And when Thomas was simply appearing to play the melody, he worked wonders.  I don’t know where a listener would find the Teddy Wilson V-Disc session that produced only two titles (and one alternate take) with a stripped-down version of Wilson’s Cafe Society band in 1943: Thomas, Ed Hall, Wilson, and Sidney Catlett.  I mean them no disrespect, but Benny Morton and Johnny Williams may have wanted to go home and get some sleep.  The two titles recorded were RUSSIAN LULLABY and HOW HIGH THE MOON — the latter of interest because it is one of the first jazz recordings of that song (including a fairly straight 1940 reading by a Fred Rich studio band with Benny Carter and Roy Eldridge as guest stars!) that I know of.  But RUSSIAN LULLABY is extra-special, taken at a slow tempo, enabling Thomas to illuminate the melody from within, as if it were a grieving anthem. 

Alas, there are no CD compilations devoted to Thomas; someone eager to hear him on record might chase down the Keynotes in a variety of forms.  One session finds him alongside Eldridge and Emmett Berry, and it’s fascinating to see how easily Thomas’s wait-and-see manner makes his colleagues seem a bit too eager, even impetuous.  His playing alongside Teagarden and Hawkins on a session led by drummer George Wettling couldn’t be better, especially on HOME and YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF LOVE TO ME. 

But he came to prominence, at least as far as the record studio executives were concerned, most often in the years of the first record ban, during World War Two.  After that, he emerged now and then in a variety of Mainstream revivals — he played at Central Plaza on an elusive “Dr. Jazz” broadcast; he was a member of an Eddie Condon troupe in the Forties that did a concert in Washington, D.C.  

I was lucky enough to hear him a few times in the early Seventies, primarily because of the enthusiastic generosity of Mike Burgevin, a classic jazz drummer whose heroes were Catlett, Tough, and Wettling — someone who also sang now and again, his model (wisely) being early-and-middle period Crosby. 

For a time, Mike took care of the jazz at a club named Brew’s — slightly east of the Empire State Building — that had a little room with tables and chairs, a minute bandstand, a decent upright piano.  His sessions usually featured himself and the quietly persuasive stride pianist Jimmy Andrews (or Dill Jones), perhaps Al Hall on bass, and a noted horn player.  It could be Ruby Braff or Kenny Davern, but often it was Max Kaminsky, Herb Hall, Herman Autrey, or Joe Thomas.  (One week, blessedly, Vic Dickenson played three or four nights with a shifting rhythm section: glorious music and a rare opportunity to observe him on his own.) 

The sessions were even noted in The New Yorker.  I remember noting that these players — people I had heard only on record — seemed to be gigging about ten minutes away from Penn Station.  When Joe Thomas’s name came up in print, I was nearly-incredulous.  Could this be our Joe Thomas, the trumpeter who was nearly luminescent on his choruses on SHE DIDN’T SAY YES?  I think I prevailed on my friend Stu Zimny to come into the city and see whether this was miracle or mirage, and I remember one brilliant set — Joe, Waller-altoist Rudy Powell, Herb Hall, Jimmy Andrews, and Burgevin — that featured Rudy on WHERE OR WHEN and there was a closing CRAZY RHYTHM for the whole band.  Of course I had my cassette recorder, but where these tapes are I cannot say.  Joe’s chorus, however, is fresh in my mind’s ear.  

We struck up a friendship with Mike Burgevin, who was thrilled to find college-age kids who were deeply immersed in the music he loved, and he told us that Joe and he would be leading a quartet for an outdoors concert in a park at the very southern end of Manhattan.  I remember that Stu and I brought a heavy reel-to-reel tape recorder, the better to capture Joe’s golden sound, and set it up in the shade, near a tree.  This provoked the only conversation I remember having with him.  Understandably, perhaps, the sight of young strangers with a big tape recorder made him nervous, and he kept on telling us that we shouldn’t do this, because “the union man” could come by.  Perhaps impatiently, we assured him that Local 802 representatuves didn’t seem to be hiding in the bushes, and that we would take the blame if anyone came around.  He could pretend that he had no knowledge of our criminalities.  It was a less memorable occasion: the quartet was filled out with someone of moderate abilities on a small electric keyboard, the bassist played an over-amplified Fender.  Joe fought his way upstream, but it was difficult.  In retrospect, I feel guilty: was he worrying about the union man all the time he was playing?  I hope not. 

He also got a chance to shine twice at the 1972 Newport in New York concerts, once at an affair devoted to Eddie Condon and his music.  It was a characteristically uneven evening.  The sound engineer at Carnegie Hall amplified the piano so that it sounded other-worldly, and Thomas (perhaps playing the role of a more modest Hot Lips Page) was brought on, along with J.C. Higginbotham, for a closing version of IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE.  Of that occasion, I remember a stunning Bobby Hackett chorus and break, but Thomas didn’t get the space to do what we knew he could.  He also was a member of Benny Carter’s SWING MASTERS big band — its rhythm section featuring Teddy Wilson, Bernard Addison, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones (!) and Thomas took a wonderful solo on a very fast rendition of SLEEP.

I don’t know what kept him out of the limelight after that, whether it was ill health or tiredness?  Was it that more showily assertive trumpeters (and there were plenty) got the gigs?  Whatever the reasons, he seems to have faded away. 

Ironically, Mike Burgevin had issued three vinyl recordings on his own Jezebel label that featured Herman Autrey, Jack Fine, Rudy Powell, and Doc Cheatham . . . which, in a way, led to Cheatham’s rediscovery and second or third period of intense (and well-deserved) fame.  Had circumstances been different, perhaps it would have been Joe Thomas playing alongside Nicholas Payton, and that is to take nothing away from Cheatham.

I had begun to write a post about Joe Thomas very shortly after beginning this blog, but shelved it because so little of his work is now available on CD.  But the impetus to celebrate him came in the past few days when the Beloved and I had the great good luck to hear Duke Heitger on a brief New York City tour.  I have admired Duke’s work for a number of years, and think of him as one of those players who honors the tradition — subtly yet passionately — without imitating anyone.  But on a few occasions this last week, Duke would get off a beautiful phrase that hung, shimmering in the air, for a second, and I would think, “Who does that remind me of?”  And the answer, when it came, startled me: the last time I had heard something quite so lovely was in listening to Joe Thomas in his prime.  Duke is too much his own man to have copied those Keynotes, but it’s an honor (at least in my estimation) to come close to some of Thomas’s quiet majesty. 

One other person who thought Joe Thomas was worthy of notice was the esteemed photographer William P. Gottlieb.  In this shot, taken at the Greenwich Village club “The Pied Piper,” sometime between 1946 and 1946, Thomas is third from the left, the only African-American.  To his left is Harry Lim:

Joe Thomas 1

Here he is playing alongside pianist Jimmy Jones, at the same club:

Joe Thomas 2

Ultimately, Thomas got a number of opportunities to record and to perform, so that a few people still remember him, but it’s sad that his work is so difficult to find.  He deserves so much more.