Tag Archives: home movies

JOE RUSHTON’S JAZZ HOME MOVIES, 1943: HERBIE HAYMER, JIMMY McPARTLAND, MIFF MOLE, BILL PRIESTLEY, AND A FEW OTHER LUMINARIES

Joe Rushton was an eminent bass saxophonist and clarinetist.  You can hear him on a variety of recordings — perhaps most often with Red Nichols’ later Pennies.

home movie camera

But he also owned a home movie camera in 1943 and onwards, as many people did.  However, where the average amateur films show Mom and the kids at holiday meals, or perhaps the new puppy on the lawn, Joe’s films show his jazz friends goofing around — on the West Coast, as members of the Benny Goodman band, on their way to play the gig and to appear in THE GANG’S ALL HERE.

Joe’s son, Josh, has not only rescued these film clips — black and white and silent — from oblivion, but he’s taken good care of them, annotated them, and put a few on YouTube here for us to marvel at and be amused by.  Here are two recent gifts to us and an astonishing one — in case you haven’t seen it recently. The odd allure of these films is strong yet hard to define.  Is it that the people captured here almost always come to us as sound, occasionally with a still picture — and those sounds have come to represent the whole men or women.  So when we see, for instance, that Miff Mole actually had a corporeal reality in some ways larger and more human than his notes coming out of the speaker, that’s a pleasure and a surprise.  When we see him in motion, putting on one suspender for the camera, not wearing his suit or his tiny eyeglasses, we might think, “They were human, too!”  Always a valuable realization.

Thank you, Joe!  Thank you, Josh!

Saxophonists Herbie Haymer (who played with Norvo as well as BG and showed up on a fine Keynote Records date around this time:

Any expert lip readers in the worldwide JAZZ LIVES audience?

And this group of playful jazz icons, captured at their ease:

So far the best guess at “the mystery man” is that he is Chummy MacGregor . . .

Finally, what may have been the most astonishing find in the Rushton archives, something I’ve already written about here:

May your happiness increase.

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LEE WILEY and JESS STACY ON FILM, 1943

Lee Wiley continues to fascinate us.  Her husky voice, her physical beauty, the legends of her personality, her sexuality.  But she now exists purely as a disembodied sound, a beautifully posed still picture.  How many people saw and heard her in her prime, or at the 1972 Newport concert that was her last public appearance?

HERE is an astonishing rarity — not known to exist before now — a minute of Lee Wiley and Jess Stacy on film.  In high definition, no less:

This brief collection of film clips (originally silent) is given to all of us through the immense generosity of Josh Rushton, son of bass saxophonist, clarinetist, and motorcyclist Joe Rushton.

The film was taken in California in 1943 — before Lee and Jess embarked on their unhappy marriage and brief musical partnership.  The other couple is Joe and Priscilla Rushton.  Josh told me, “The bookend shots of just Wiley and Stacy are probably from around June 1943 in San Francisco, and the ones with my mom and dad are probably from October 1943 on the roof of a Hollywood hotel near the penthouse exit.”

This is the only film footage discovered so far of Lee — who looks lovely and slightly plump, her hair dark, resembling the actress Patricia Clarkson.  If there are skilled lip-readers in the JAZZ LIVES audience, they can decipher the dialogue for us.  And if there are readers skilled in couples counseling, they can certainly say something about the Wiley – Stacy union through the couple’s gestures and body language.  Jess looks and acts like a man smitten; Lee seems much more intrigued by the camera, although if they had been happily married for decades, we would interpret this film more optimistically.  (The parking sign needs no explication but makes me nostalgic for 1943.)

For the camera, Lee and Jess enact flirtation, playful happiness, and romance, although the enactment soured quickly.  But I would be thrilled to see that couple coming down the sidewalk to me.  Jess remained a handsome fellow but never looked better than he does here.  And Lee, simply walking or swaying back and forth, shows why she captured hearts without singing a syllable of Gershwin or Robison.

We have still got a crush on her!

(Note: the sardonic soundtrack, Lee singing the E.Y. Harburg – Harold Arlen DOWN WITH LOVE, is a contemporary addition to the silent home movie.  The rueful comment at the end comes from Deane Kincaide, who knew the couple well.)

HOOLEY’S HOME MOVIES

From Bill Haesler, the Australian jazz scholar, and courtesy of Denis King, I learned that Harry Oakley has posted on YouTube a four-minute selection from the trumpeter Sylvester Ahola’s home movies, taken in the 1920s.  They are cheerful sketches of musicians mugging for the camera, and in some cases doing vaudeville bits.  But few of young men we see here are identified or perhaps identifiable.  I wonder if these faces are known to my readers?  (I find it delightfully ironic that there’s a sign for ROOSEVELT FIELD in this selection: it was famous as a Long Island airstrip — remember Charles Lindbergh? — before it became a shopping mall.  I’ll drive past it today!)

From Harry:   Trumpeter Sylvester Ahola was a keen filmer and began his hobby in the 1920’s when amateur filming was still a novelty. Ahola filmed much that interested him but we have selected the footage which shows a number of his fellow musicians from different bands of which he was a member. Alas, with only a few exceptions, we have been unable to identify these men and we invite everybody to help us find out who they are. Ahola himself can be seen a few times; rowing a boat, with his camera in his hand (obviously filmed by someone else with another camera although it is possible that he owned two), playing his trumpet, doing a short dance and with an elderly couple, probably his parents. In the scenes with the guys in striped jackets we have identified Adrian Rollini and Tommy Felline – both from the California Ramblers of which Ahola was, very briefly, a member. This footage was shot on the roof of the Newark Branford Theater in March 1927. After leaving the California Ramblers Ahola joined Bert Lowe and his Orchestra (not to be confused with Bert Lown), and several members of this band were also filmed. We have added an appropriate soundtrack; a long version of “The Pay Off”, played by the California Ramblers in 1927.

LOUIS, RICKY, AND UWE, SPREADING JOY

louis-1935-anton-bruehl

Louis Armstrong is still giving us joy, and people inspired by his spirit are being generous in his name. 

The prime mover here is Ricky Riccardi, whose Louis-blog, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG (www.dippermouth.blogspot.com.), has been extra-special of late.  If you haven’t visited it, you are depriving yourself of both pleasure and insight.  Typically, Ricky spins the roulette wheel of iTunes to come up with one of Louis’s records, which he lovingly analyzes in print. 

But wait!  There’s more!  Ricky’s writing makes me hear new things in records I know by heart.  And he also provides audio of the recording and of related tracks and video clips.  It’s like a free master class with a master listener who adores Louis.   

But wait!  There’s more!  Ricky’s friend-of-Louis Uwe Zanisch turned up some heroically rare film of Louis and the All-Stars: COLOR home movies of the band in Ghana in 1956, in Sweden in 1965 and 1961.  The band on the bus — reading, sleeping, chatting — and in concert.  Priceless and heart-warming.  And, as Ricky writes, the fact that the films are silent is even more endearing.   

Visit the site: if it’s snowing and cold where you are, you’ll feel warm and enriched all day.  And, with the power vested in me, I award Ricky and Uwe the Golden Order of Louis, First Class, with crossed shuzzit.

FOUR STRINGS IN MY FUTURE?

Two days ago on Maui, we wandered into a second-hand store in Wailuku and I saw a beautiful ukulele hanging on the wall.  In the grip of musical hubris and hopefulness, I asked to see it and improvised a simple Thirties single-note riff, impressing the Beloved, who said, “I didn’t know you could play!”  “I didn’t either,” I replied.

mele-curly-kpa-tenor-2-holeSince I was quite young, I have made half-hearted attempts at learning a number of musical instruments.  Some of those nstruments ornament my apartment, although I am cautious lest it turn into a one-bedroom version of a music store / pawnshop. 

The ukulele has appealed to me for a long time, because I had the notion that it might be fairly simple to play — four strings rather than some more intimidating number, and not a great deal of aesthetic ambition attached to it (unlike, say, the violin).  It also has a Jazz Age history — on all the Twenties and Thirties sheet music I collect, the line above the treble clef has chord diagrams for imagined ukulele players to read off the page — and the diagrams are just my speed, a diagram of the four strings with a dot on each string to show where the novice should place his or her fingers. 

I haven’t bought the ukulele yet, although we visited the Mele store, where Peter (the resident self-taught virtuouso) tried to teach me to play YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE, with middling results. (I am a recalcitrant, stubborn pupil.)   The second-hand store was closed today, and I refuse to pay full price unless I am compelled to by circumstances.  I also don’t plan to turn into Arthur Godfrey, Don Ho, or Tiny Tim, never fear.  My aesthetic model is Cliff Edwards. I don’t aspire to starring in Technicolor, being the voice of a Disney character, or dying penniless, but his swinging insouciance is immensely appealing.

There are many wonderful Ukulele Ike clips on YouTube — too many to up or download, so you might want to investigate them on your own.  I’ll report back about the results of my four-string quest.

(On YouTube, you can also see a brief clip of Buster Keaton at home in 1965, happily croaking his way through “June Night,” accompanying himself on a tenor guitar with a fair deal of skill.  Who knew?)