It’s Sunday again — and that means it’s time to go to The Ear Inn. This will explain it all.
I know, perhaps better than you’d think, the difference between a live performance and a video, but I’d ask you to not scoff at the latter, because it is our century’s version of a phonograph record . . . and since I would guess that few people alive in 2020 heard Charlie Christian, we’ve contented ourselves with his “recorded legacy.”
Here’s my humble contribution to keeping The Ear Inn and The EarRegulars fresh and lively in our ears and hearts.
Thanks to the magic of technology, we can go there (or back or sideways) to hear music from November 8, 2009, featuring Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass, unaffected Ministers of Magic.
Victor Herbert’s INDIAN SUMMER:
With nods to Whiteman and Horace Henderson, HAPPY FEET:
and Louis’s swinging anthem of reproach, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY:
Blessings on the place, its inhabitants musical and non-musical. Let us gather there soon in peace and safety, our hearts purged of fear.
If you’re called “crazy,” it’s not usually a compliment. A psychiatrist might assign your particular condition a number according to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) so that the health insurance company will know what box your paperwork should go into. But in pop music of a certain era, being “crazy” seems to be an exalted state. Think of the Gershwins’ GIRL CRAZY, or the Fats Waller-Alex Hill I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY. Or this wonderful state of being:
The composition was Fletcher’s, but brother Horace did the arrangement and played piano in this wonderful edition of the Henderson orchestra, recording in New York, October 3, 1933 — Russell Smith, Bobby Stark, Henry “Red” Allen, trumpet; Claude Jones, Dicky Wells, trombone; Russell Procope, Hilton Jefferson, Coleman Hawkins, reeds; Horace Henderson, piano; Bernard Addison, guitar; John Kirby, string bass; Walter Johnson, drums. Great dance music, great rhythm section, great solos from Claude Jones, Coleman Hawkins, Bobby Stark, Dicky Wells — I imagine this arrangement being “opened up” for a long romp.
And here’s what that record sounds like:
That riffing composition did not get recorded (although there’s a wonderful video of the Harlem Jazz Camels, featuring Bent Persson, performing it) for another eighty years. But pianist Paolo Alderighi and trombonist Dan Barrett get truly groovy here. What a tempo, and what sounds!
This duo was part of a Rebecca Kilgore record session — recorded in the back room of Portland, Oregon’s Classic Pianos, and you can hear it all on the CD that resulted. Talk to our heroine-friend Ms. Beckyhere about acquiring a copy, order it on Amazon here, or here on iTunes: it’s crazy in the best ways.
A math problem or perhaps a logic one. When you add this
what is the result? From my perspective, pure joy and a delightful surprise.
Hereand hereI’ve shared the story of Flip as well as two otherwise undocumented live performances by Randy Reinhart, Jon-Erik Kellso, Duke Heitger, James Dapogny, John Sheridan, Marty Grosz, Vince Giordano, John Von Ohlen at the September 2008 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend.
And here is Flip’s final gift to us — a performance of the Horace Henderson composition (recorded in 1933 by a small group led by Coleman Hawkins) JAMAICA SHOUT by Marty Grosz, guitar; James Dapogny, piano; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor sax; Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Vince Giordano, string bass; Pete Siers, drums:
There are many things I do not know about this song and this performance. I suspect that the JAMAICA in the title refers to the Long Island, New York suburb — “the country” in 1933 — rather than the Caribbean island, but neither Walter C. Allen nor John Chilton has anything to say on the subject. I don’t know if the chart is Marty’s or Jim’s, but it certainly honors the original while giving the players ample room to be themselves.
I do know why I only recorded three performances — fear of the Roman-emperor-of-Hot Joe Boughton, who could be fierce — but I wish I had been more daring. You’ll note that my video-capture has all the earmarks of illicit, sub rosawork — there is a splendid Parade of Torsos by men entirely oblivious of my presence and camera, but Louis forgive them, they knew not what they did. And they may have been returning to their seats with slices of cake, a phenomenon which tends to blot out all cognition. (On that note, Corrections Officials here or on YouTube who write in to criticize the video will be politely berated.) However, the music is audible; the performance survives; and we can celebrate the living while mourning the departed, James Dapogny and Chuck Wilson, who are very much alive here.
There are many more newly-unearthed and never-shared performances from the 2011-17 Jazz at Chautauqua and Cleveland Classic Jazz Party to come: one of the benefits of archaeological apartment-tidying. For now, I thank Flip, who enabled this music to live on. And the musicians, of course — some of whom can still raise a SHOUT when the time is right.
“DINAH LOU,” music by Rube Bloom and lyrics by Ted Koehler, from the 29th COTTON CLUB PARADE, perhaps would have gotten less attention and affection if it had not been the subject of several memorable recordings.
A footnote: the song was composed several years earlier, and recorded by Red Nichols (leading an expert but little-known post-Pennies Chicago band) at the end of 1932: I hope to share that disc in a future posting.
The first version I encountered was Red Allen’s, from July 19, 1935, with Henry “Red” Allen, J.C. Higginbotham, Albert Nicholas, Cecil Scott, Horace Henderson, Lawrence Lucie, Elmer James, Kaiser Marshall. Notably, it was the first of four songs recorded at that session — a warm-up, perhaps, for the delightful Frolick that is ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON. I think you can hear what captivated me years ago: a good song and lots of very satisfying, individualistic melodic improvisation: much art packed into a small package:
On August 1, Chuck Richards sang it with the Mills Blue Rhythm Band — Red was in the band, but sang on the Bloom-Koehler TRUCKIN’. However, he takes a soaring solo — more in a Louis mode than his usual way — with marvelous interludes from Billy Kyle, J. C. Higginbotham, and Buster Bailey. Richards was a competent balladeer, but to me the real star here is the band, with a very lovely reed section:
On January 20, 1936, Ivie Anderson sang it with the Duke Ellington Orchestra (three takes, of which two survive). I don’t know which of these two was recorded first, but I’ve distinguished them by sound and length. Talk about wonderful instrumental voices — in addition to Ivie, whom no one’s equalled.
And the most delightful surprise (August 25, 1955): a live performance by Humphrey Lyttelton, trumpet; Bruce Turner, clarinet, alto saxophone; Johnny Parker, piano; Freddy Legon, guitar; Jim Bray, string bass; Stan Greig, drums:
The motive behind this leisurely long satisfying performance may have been nothing more complex than “Let’s stretch out and keep taking solos,” but it works so splendidly: hearing this is like watching two marvelous tennis players volley for hours with the ball always in the air. It feels very much like a magical return to a late-Thirties Basie aesthetic, with none of the usual patterns of an opening ensemble giving way, after the horn solos, to rhythm section solos.
Will anyone adopt DINAH LOU as a good tune to improvise on in this century?
Once again, our friend, hero, and down-home Eminence, Dan Morgenstern, shares his stories with us. . . . stories that you can’t get on Spotify.
But first, some musical evidence — both for people who have never heard Sandy Williams play the trombone, and those, like me, were happy to be reminded of this “barrelhouse solo”:
Here’s Dan in a wide-ranging memory-journey that encompasses not only Sandy and Benny Morton, the Stuyvesant Casino and Central Plaza, but an astounding cast of characters, including Chick Webb, Fletcher Henderson, Bob Maltz, Conrad Janis, Ed Allen, Cecil Scott, Floyd Casey, Clarence Williams, Bob Dylan, Carl Kendziora, Annette Hanshaw, Bernie Privin, Leadbelly, Josh White, Horace Henderson, Lips Page, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge,Willie “the Lion” Smith, James P. Johnson, and more.
and just so no one forgets Mr. Williams or his associates:
Or the very sweet-natured Benny Morton (heard here with Billie Holiday, Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Teddy Wilson, Walter Page, Freddie Green, Jo Jones) — it would be a sin to forget Benny!
I emphasize that Dan’s stories — squatting next to the piano to hear James P. Johnson more clearly, the kindness of Benny Morton, and other bits of first-hand narrative — have a larger resonance, one not limited to hot jazz devotees.
When the music is gone, when the band has packed up, when the chairs have been upended on the tables, the memories and stories remain. I urge my readers to tell theirs — and to record the stories of older generations. These stories are priceless now; as the participants leave us, the stories are even more precious.
The people in them don’t have to be famous, and the tales don’t have to be dramatic: asking Grandma what she ate when Grandpa took her out for their first date is irreplaceable. (I nag at my students to do this — aim your iPhone at someone! — and I am fairly sure they won’t. Forty years from now, their loss will be irreparable.)
That is also why Dan Morgenstern’s generosity of spirit — taking time to share his memories with us — is a great gift, one that won’t wear out or fade.
“Quite good. Of course my students can’t multi-task, so class was disappointing, but after that, I headed a few minutes east from my college to UNIQUE — a for-profit thrift store. Mondays at UNIQUE are “Customer Appreciation Day,” where we get a twenty-five percent discount, so that adds to the overall thrill. Today I was looking for a plant pot with drainage holes in the bottom and was checking out the display of Hawaiian shirts, but I bought neither.”
“The records at UNIQUE are near the entrance, so I thumbed through the usual assortment of dull long-playing ones: Christmas music, Hugo Winterhalter, disco 12″ — but saw three that intrigued me: two by the singer Mavis Rivers on Capitol, and one by the otherwise unknown Pat Kirby on Decca — with orchestra conducted by Ralph Burns, always an encouraging sign. $1.49 each.”
[Postscript: Pat Kirby turns out to be one of the finest singers I have ever heard. More about her as I learn more: the facts are few.]
“Then I saw one lonely 78 rpm record in a later-period yellow paper sleeve, and picked it up — the Andrews Sisters’ BEI MIR BIS DU SCHOEN — which, as my good friend Rob Rothberg would tell you, is a Bobby Hackett sighting of the highest order, especially on the original Decca issue. I weighed that record in my hand, decided I didn’t need it, although it was a good omen, even at $3.99. Then I saw more.
Perhaps another fifty 78s, nicely sleeved, in various places. Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Glen Gray, Erskine Hawkins, Benny Goodman . . . and the jackpot. My thing. Cozy Cole with Don Byas and Coleman Hawkins on Continental. Bill Harris and J.C. Heard on Keynote. Coleman Hawkins (as shown above) on Bluebird, which I now understand was a follow-up date to BODY AND SOUL and a kind of Henderson reunion, leaving aside Danny Polo and Gene Rodgers. Horace Henderson on Vocalion. And two sacred Commodore records: one featuring Chu Berry, the other Hawkins, both with space for Sidney Catlett:
Record-hunting, for me, always mixes uncontrollable excitement and melancholy. Who died? Who’s in assisted living? Who will never hear J.C. Higginbotham again? A few of the records had sleeves noting that they had come from one Peter Dilg of Baldwin, purveyor of antique phonographs. Peter, where are you now? And a postscript — written after I’d published this blogpost: someone who’d owned at least one of these 78s was a hot-jazz collector after my own heart, because on the paper sleeve of one [a different record, of course] in neat handwriting, he’d noted that Chick Bullock was the singer, and the band was a very nice swinging group — listing each member by name and instrument and giving the recording date. Sir, where are YOU now?
But such melancholy thoughts are always balanced by the child, silently hollering LOOK WHAT I GOT!
So I walked around the shelves, clutching my records to my shirt-front with the ardor of someone who doesn’t want to put his treasures down for a moment. Usually I am alone when I look at records, but today, twice, I spied Brothers of the Collecting Urge, both gentlemen of my general age bracket. One, with baseball cap and ponytail, pretended he didn’t see me when we were looking at the lps. ‘Someone liked singers,’ I said — as an opening gambit, to which the response was a powerful albeit silent Do Not Come Near, Do Not Speak To Me. When I had finished, another fellow — no ponytail this time — was looking at 78s I had been through. I tried again. ‘Lots of good jazz to your left, although $3.99 seems surprisingly high.’ ‘You want ’em, you take ’em,” was his encouraging response, and no more was said. So much for the Brotherhood.”
But now, in my June-warm apartment, I can grade student essays to the finest accompaniment. And although it might be presumptuous to think this, I feel gratitude to the Goddess for letting me be in that space and find these sacred relics which — as we know — still sound good in 2017. Twenty-none dollars and some cents, if you’re curious.
And when I die, I hope my friends are around to divide up the musical bounty. What they don’t want will — if I am lucky in the spirit-world — will end up at some thrift shop, giving the next generation a story with equal pleasure.
Yesterday, May 3, would have been Bing Crosby’s birthday. He doesn’t need to be defended, re-assessed, or re-evaluated, but it’s always a pleasure to remember his singing: his passionate ease, his swing, his beautiful dramatic sense. I first fell in love with his voice in my childhood and it continues to thrill me. Here are two (really, three) examples of how wonderfully he sang in the Thirties — and the lovely songs he was given, the first by Sam Coslow and Arthur Johnston, the second by Al Dubin and Harry Warren.
Here is a clip from the film. Bing’s acting is broad, reminiscent of his Mack Sennett days, but it could also be the way he was directed: listen to the voice:
and the issued recording, its subtleties showing that he knew how to improvise:
Here’s I’VE GOT TO SING A TORCH SONG, where Bing’s passionate delivery might make you forget the simple scalar quality of the melody line:
The question of “influence” is always slippery, unless A has written a letter that she is listening to the newest record by B and is impressed by it. Those two songs were in the air, on sheet music, on the radio — this was popular music — so although I feel that Bing had a powerful influence on instrumentalists, I can’t prove it. However, I offer these two instrumental versions — each a beautiful creation — to suggest that perhaps the most famous jazz players were listening deeply to Bing. (We know Louis did.) It gives me an excuse to share, without ideology, glorious rhapsodies.
That’s Hawk with a small group from the Fletcher Henderson band (Red Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Hilton Jefferson, Horace Henderson, Bernard Addison, John Kirby, Walter Johnson); here he is as star soloist with the full orchestra, with brother Horace on piano, who may have done the arrangement:
Gorgeous music. Sweet, hot, White, Black — who cares? Just gorgeous.
I am totally bushed. Exhausted. Tired. I know it is from having fun: the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party followed right after by five-plus days and nights in New Orleans for the Steamboat Stomp and extra gigs . . . But I am having trouble being fully functional.
So I need a consultation with Doctor Donald Redman, who will bring in his specialists:
That 1932 band, not incidentally, is Langston Curl, Shirley Clay, Sidney De Paris, Claude Jones, Fred Robinson, Benny Morton, Edward Inge, Rupert Cole, Don Redman, Robert Carroll, Horace Henderson, Talcott Reeves, Bob Ysaguirre, Manzie Johnson. The song is Don’s composition and he talk-sings it with great charm; Horace Henderson did the arrangement. Thanks to Mark Shane for reminding me of this little whimsical gem.
Note: I do not know the young woman in the photograph, which is fine, since she would destroy my sleep for sure.
My title comes from Ezra Pound, whose serious instruction to hopeful modernists was MAKE IT NEW. In its own way, jazz has always been about making it new; even when one generation was paying tribute to preceding ones, the act of homage was in some ways grounded in newness. If, in 2016, one decides to play note-for-note recreations of an Alcide Nunez record, that act is bound to have 2016 sensibilities and nuances built in. But what animates Dan Block is much deeper than that. Dan, who embodies an extraordinarily wide range of music, is one of the most imaginative shape-changers I know.
For his most recent gig at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Dan assembled a surprising quintet: himself on clarinet and tenor saxophone; Godwin Louis on alto; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Jennifer Vincent, string bass; and for this rehearsal-session, Pete Van Nostrand, drums (Alvester Garnett played drums at Dizzy’s on June 7). The videos here are from an informal session held at Fat Cat on May 31. I present them here with Dan’s encouragement: although the crowd was its usual boy-and-girlish self, the music was spectacular. The band was advertised as “The Dan Block Quintet: Mary Lou Williams and Benny Carter Meet Hard Bop.” Intriguing, no?
Dan took half a dozen venerable songs from the Thirties — with connections to Chick Webb, Fletcher and Horace Henderson, Edgar Sampson, Mary Lou Williams, and Benny Carter — and reconsidered them, as if he were a very imaginative couturier. Take the song down to its sparest elements: strong melody, strong rhythm, familiar harmonies, and ask, “How would this look in lime green? What about a very short denim jacket?” and so on. As if he were fascinated by the essential self of the song — that which could not be harmed or obliterated — and started to play with the trappings — new rhythms, a different approach, new harmonies and voicings — to see what might result.
What resulted was and is terribly exciting — a blossoming-forth of exuberant energies from all the musicians.
HARLEM CONGO (from the Webb book):
PUDDIN’ HEAD SERENADE (Andy Kirk):
HOTTER THAN ‘ELL (Henderson):
BLUES IN MY HEART (Carter):
LONESOME NIGHTS (Carter):
BLUE LOU (Edgar Sampson for Chick Webb, then everyone else):
I think the originators, who were radical for their time, would certainly approve.
As an aside: everyone’s a critic, and cyber-communications have intensified this feeling. If readers write, “I like the original 78 versions better! This is not the way these songs should sound!” such comments will stay hidden. I revere the originals also, but I won’t have creative musicians I admire be insulted by comparisons of this nature.
Yes, you read that correctly. Here’s an eBay marvel, quite remarkable, showing Benny Carter in a promotional picture playing clarinet — which he did infrequently but with great style — and the picture is wittily inscribed:
The seller notes,
Photograph is inscribed and signed: “Best wishes to ‘Punk and Spunk’ which may be junk but surely no bunk with a hunk of sincerity, Benny Carter”
Photograph captioned: ” BENNY CARTER And His Orchestra”.
I’ve acquired a photo album, with over 100 photos, which comes from the Down Beat Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma. These photographs are from the Swing Era. They are all original photographs. There are photographs of such luminaries as Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, Billy Eckstine, Dizzy Gillespie, Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter, Cootie Williams, Erskine Hawkins, Count Basie, Andy Kirk, and Cab Calloway. Some of these photographs are signed and inscribed. I’ve included images of three additional items which will not be included in the sale, but help to illustrate the location, upcoming events of the time, and a couple of the illustrious musicians who played there. The photograph on the bottom right is of Erskine Hawkins and Ida James in the Down Beat Ballroom in front of some of the very photographs which are currently for sale or will be offered for sale in the days and weeks to follow. The other photograph is an amazing one of Louis Armstrong (Satchmo) playing in the Down Beat Ballroom. If you look above Louis’ head and above the word Ballroom, you’ll see a musical bar with the word Down in it. I’ve also included the back of an orange Nookie Ration Card, which was used as a calendar of upcoming events. As most of the signed photographs were inscribed to Spunk and Punk, I must assume that these were the names by which the proprietors of the club were known.
Doing research from my desk chair, I found that the “Down Beat” was in operation in July 1941 and was named for the music magazine of the time (Ella Fitzgerald and her Orchestra were appearing there). I gather that the building that once stood at 1201 North Greenwood no longer exists; I could find no photographs of the ballroom. Oklahoma State University has its main address as 700 North Greenwood, and Greenwood runs through the campus, so I hope that one or more of the Music Department’s classrooms now occupy the space where Punk and Spunk held court:
The Carter photograph is undated, but the “Nookie Ration Card” provoked a short — and possibly ethereal — investigation of historical linguistics. I submit the evidence but offer no conclusions. One: rationing in the United States began in late 1941 and continued through the Second World War. Two: “nookie” was cited as early as 1928 as a word meaning both sexual intercourse and the female sexual anatomy. I would thus love to see more photographic detail about the “Nookie Ration Card.” Did it contain stamps that one could present to receive a rationed — thus highly desirable — product?
While readers consider the implications of this, or don’t, hereis the eBay link.
And here is the lovely sound of Bennett Lester Carter (“The King”) playing clarinet.
DEE BLUES (The “Chocolate Dandies,” 1930 — Bobby Stark, Jimmy Harrison, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Horace Henderson, Benny Jackson, John Kirby:
JOE TURNER BLUES (1940: Big Joe Turner, Bill Coleman, Benny Morton, Benny Carter, Georgie Auld, Sonny White, Ulysses Livingston, Wilson Myers, Yank Porter):
BEALE STREET BLUES (same):
On both tracks, Joe sang his own quite impromptu lyrics, amusing since the records were intended as a tribute to W.C. Handy.
LOVELESS LOVE (take one, Billie Holiday for Turner):
LOVELESS LOVE (take two):
ST. LOUIS BLUES (take one):
ST. LOUIS BLUES (take two):
Here you can find other photographs inscribed to Spunk and Punk or the reverse — Cootie Williams, Savannah Churchill. Here’s Ida Cox, in a rare shot:
and this person:
Thanks to the Swing Detective, Kris Bauwens. And I dedicate this post to Benny Carter’s friend, photographer, and scholar Ed Berger.
Better than anything you could buy in a chain drugstore or any prescription pharmaceutical, this will keep the gloomies at bay. Unlike those little pink or blue pills, it lasts longer than four hours and there are no cases recorded of drastic side effects.
One of the highlights of 2014, of this century, of my adult life — let’s not let understatement get in the way of the truth! — was a quartet set at the 2014 San Diego Jazz Fest featuring Ray Skjelbred, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; Beau Sample, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. I’ve been sharing it one or two performances at a time on JAZZ LIVES in the same way you never want a delicious experience to end.
Here is the quartet’s very groovy, very hot HAPPY FEET (Jack Yellen – Milton Ager, originally from THE KING OF JAZZ):
And since this song “has history,” I offer a few more variations on this terpsichorean theme.
Leo Reisman with Bubber Miley, 1930, at a truly groovy tempo:
Noble Sissle, also in 1930, with the only film I know of Tommy Ladnier:
Frank Trumbauer and Smith Ballew:
and the irresistible 1933 version by the Fletcher Henderson’s band, with specialists Dr. Horace Henderson, Dr. Henry Allen, Dr. Dicky Wells, and Dr. Coleman Hawkins called in:
There’s also a life-altering live performance with Hot Lips Page and Sidney Catlett from the Eddie Condon Floor Show, but you’ll have to imagine it for now.
I hope you’re feeling better, and that your feet and all points north are happier.
I had to write that long title; if I just offered Ray’s song title — BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES — readers would jump to the most dire conclusions. But no! Sir Charles Thompson is in his middle nineties, plays golf, lives in Japan, is happily married. There’s hope for all of us, although I don’t intend to take up golf.
For about sixty years, Sir Charles has been one of the rare birds of jazz — emerging on record in 1940 with the Horace Henderson band and making his name with Charlie Parker in 1945, on recordings with Buck Clayton (the Jam Sessions and more), Joe Newman, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Morton, Ruby Braff, Vic Dickenson, and three-quarters of the Basie rhythm section. Unlike the equally unheralded Nat Pierce, Charles’ version of Basie was stealthily his own, with boppish harmonic underpinnings that never got in the way of his floating swing. Indeed, the recording Charles made of SWINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES with Freddie Green, Walter Page, and Jo Jones (John Hammond admired him and welcomed him on sessions for Vanguard and Columbia) is one of the recordings I go to first if someone asks me, “What does swing mean to you?”
Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs were one of the highlights of the 2014 Sacramento Music Festival (they are a highlight wherever I encounter them) and this swinging blues shows them off beautifully — Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar.
BLUES FOR [IN CELEBRATION OF!] SIR CHARLES THOMPSON:
This one’s for everyone who could use a little swing, and it’s especially for my pal Bill Gallagher, who is the official Sir Charles Thompson discographer.
Pianist / composer / scholar / poet Ray Skjelbred is one of the rare ones.
I don’t say this only because of his deeply rewarding piano playing — soloist, accompanist, bandleader — but because of the understanding that it rests upon. Ray understands that he is one of long line of creators — members of the tribe of improvising storytellers, some of them no longer on the planet but their energies still vividly alive.
He doesn’t strive to copy or to “recreate”; rather, he honors and embodies in ways that words can only hint at. Call it an enlightened reverence that takes its form in blues-based melodic inventions, and you’ll be close to understanding the essence of what Ray does, feels, and is.
Here are some of his own introspections: “I get ideas by trying to hear the world differently, sometimes even misunderstanding sound on purpose. . . . I like to see things differently, to shape a song, to make it mine. I like to make tempo changes, especially fast to slow, I like to make the notes as round and warm as possible and part of that comes from shading a composition with blue notes that frame the passion. I like to fill in harmonies when the melody feels a little bony to me. . . . I think music is an adventure, a chance to shape sound with your bare hands.”
I’ve admired his playing for some years now — before I knew him as a soloist, I heard him through ensembles on recordings led by other musicians, rather in the way one would hear Hines, Horace Henderson, Joe Sullivan, Frank Melrose, Jess Stacy, Zinky Cohn, Tut Soper, Cassino Simpson, Alex Hill, or a dozen others subversively and happily animating the largest group.
There are several ways to experience this magic — Ray making himself a portal through which the elders can speak, while adding his own personal experiences. One, of course, is to witness his transformations in person. To do this, you’d have to know where he is going to be playing — check out the bottom of the page here for his appearances in the near future.
Another way t0 have a portable Skjelbred festival is through his compact discs, recent and otherwise, listed here. I call two new issues to your attention. One, RAGTIME PIANO, is — beneath its rather plain title — a continued exploration of subversive possibilities, witty and warm.
I remember the first time I began to listen to it — with small surprises popping through the surface like small flowers, catching me off guard, subtler than Monk creating his own version of stride piano but with some of the same effect. Each track is a small hot sonata, with the surprises resurfacing to make the whole disc a suite of unusual yet comfortable syncopated dance music.
The sixteen solo piano performances offer classics, stretched and reconsidered: SWIPSEY CAKEWALK / SOMETHING DOING / WHOOPEE STOMP / LOUISIANA RAG / MOURNFUL SERENADE / DANCE OF THE WITCH HAZELS / PINEAPPLE RAG / AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING, as well as Ray’s originals — inspired by everyone from Emily Dickinson to Julia Child: SMILING RAG / LEAN AND GRIEFY RAG / DON’T CROWD THE MUSHROOMS / COCHINEAL RAG / LITTLE ELMER’S RAG / THE PICOT RAG / REFLECTIONS RAG / BALLS AND STRIKES FOREVER.
Another deep lesson in how to get the most music possible — and then some — from the piano can be found in Ray’s PIANO PORTRAITS, which demonstrates his range of endearing associations, from the Hot Five and early blues singers to Carl Kress and Eddie Lang, from Jimmie Noone and early Ellington to Bix, Hines, and Charlie Shavers. It’s a filling and fulfilling musical banquet: SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD / FEELING MY WAY / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / WEATHER BIRD RAG / SQUEEZE ME / I NEED YOU BY MY SIDE / DINAH / READY FOR THE RIVER / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / CLARK AND RANDOLPH / CANNED MEAT RAG / BLUES FROM “CREOLE RHAPSODY” / BLUES FOR MILLIE LAMMOREUX / FATHER SWING / WHEN I DREAM OF YOU / A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND / MY HEART / MUGGLES / UNDECIDED. Ray’s prose is as forthright and evocative as his playing, so this CD is worth reading as well as hearing for his recollections of Johnny Wittwer, Joe Sullivan, Burt Bales, Art Hodes, and Earl Hines.
Another way to experience Ray, his mastery of “those pretty notes and jangly octaves,” can be through these video performances. He has been more than gracious to me, allowing me to capture him in a variety of settings. I offer one here, BULL FROG BLUES, recorded on November 29, 2013, at the San Diego Thanksgiving Jazz Festival — with his Cubs, that savory band: Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Mike Daugherty, drums:
Wherever Ray goes, whatever the context in which he makes music, it’s always rewarding.
Henry “Red” Allen deserves to be celebrated — a monumentally surprising individualist with deep New Orleans roots but as modern as you could want. He demonstrated his quirky powers for four decades on record and in performance: in one phrase, harking back to street parades and the great trumpet tradition including his friend and sometime employer Louis Armstrong, then creating dancing angular phrases that came from nowhere, broke in through the side window, tap-danced in the air, and left in a flash.
If the history of jazz had not been compressed by star-makers and taxonomists (Louis to Roy to Dizzy to Miles, no local stops) more people would have noticed that Red’s phrasing and note choices are as deliciously odd as Lester’s or Monk’s — earlier. With some splendid musicians, you can anticipate what they might play and what directions their solos might take: not Henry Red. And as a singer. he blends the romance of an African-American Crosby and the wildness of Leo Watson, the good grease of Lips Page — always recognizable as himself.
In the Thirties, Red worked with the Fletcher Henderson band, the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, and eventually with Louis’ large band — which grew out of the 1929-30 Luis Russell Orchestra, perhaps the happiest band in jazz. He recorded with a variety of blues singers, with Billie Holiday and James P. Johnson — but the records that many of us treasure are a series made for jukeboxes between 1933 and 1937.
Their premise was simple: get a small band of expert swing musicians (none of them famous enough to command salaries above scale), pass out current pop tunes, make sure the melody and lyrics were clear and distinct in an opening chorus, and let the fellows swing out.
Red’s cohorts on these recordings were (among others) trombonists Bennie Morton, Dicky Wells, and J.C. Higginbotham; reedmen Coleman Hawkins, Cecil Scott, Chu Berry, Hilton Jefferson, Russell Procope, Tab Smith, Buster Bailey, rhythm players Don Kirkpatrick, Horace Henderson, John Kirby, Bernard Addison, Lawrence Lucie, Walter Johnson, and others. Many years ago these records were available in complete chronological order on vinyl and CD, but those issues are hard to find. They rank with the best Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, and Mildred Bailey recordings.
But this is not simply a celebration of the hallowed dead. Rather, like so many musical occasions that delight me, the music presented below merges the past and the present at once. And if ever a musician could straddle 1933 and 2012 without ripping his suit trousers, it would be our man Jon-Erik Kellso. He is wise enough to play himself rather than copying Red, but he loves the small band recordings Red and Coleman Hawkins created. He and a congenial small band — Alex Hoffman, tenor saxophone; Bob Havens, trombone; John Sheridan, piano; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Pete Siers, drums — swung out in tribute to Red, Hawk, and the good music you could hear on a jukebox or at home in 1933-4 . . . at Jazz at Chautauqua 2012.
I’M RHYTHM CRAZY NOW comes from the (Horace) Henderson book, and it lives up to its title in an understated way:
THE DAY YOU CAME ALONG was a voluptuous hit for Bing Crosby at his most romantic — and it became a great showcase for Coleman Hawkins (yet another example of Crosby’s magnificent influence across “schools” and “styles”):
YOU’RE GONNA LOSE YOUR GAL, for better or worse, is purely instrumental here, so we miss out on the profound lines, “acting like a two-time lover / sneaking kisses under cover / you’ll wake up and you’ll discover”:
Fats Waller’s rhetorical urging us to joy, AIN’T CHA GLAD?:
From the very first session Red and Hawk attempted — with tuba and banjo at the orders of the recording executives — SISTER KATE:
I’VE GOT MY FINGERS CROSSED, a hot tune, might not have been recorded by Red — but Fats and Louis created memorable recordings of it (in Fats’ case, a film appearance) so it’s welcome here:
This Buescher trumpet, the advertisement tells us, is the model Emmett Berry plays with Johnny Hodges. For tremendous power and range, which Mr. Berry would have had on any horn.
Emmett Berry came from the tradition of individualistic players — with an intense near-ferocity no matter what the context . . . with Fletcher or Horace Henderson, Don Byas, Coleman Hawkins, Cozy Cole, Edmond Hall, Bennie Morton, Buck Clayton, Dickie Wells, Buddy Tate, Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Walter Thomas, Ben Webster, Budd Johnson, Oscar Pettiford, Harry Carney, Johnny Guarneri, Illinois Jacquet, Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Benny Carter, Eddie Heywood, Vic Dickenson, John Kirby, Gerald Wilson, Betty Roche, Helen Humes, Johnny Thompson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Al Sears,Al Hibbler, Lem Davis, Dodo Marmarosa, Slim Gaillard, John Simmons, Zutty Singleton, Sidney Catlett, Sammy Price, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Eddie Bert, Lucky Thompson, Bennie Green, Lawrence Brown, Sidney Bechet, Ruby Braff, Art Farmer, Claude Hopkins, Pee Wee Russell, Bob Brookmeyer, Andy Gibson, Paul Gonsalves, Cannonball Adderley, Shorty Baker, Chu Berry, Earl Hines, Joe Williams. On Keynote he was the third trumpet player with Joe Thomas and Roy Eldridge. He was in the trumpet section for a Miles Davis and Gil Evans session.
Between 1937 and 1967, he seems to have been active on gigs and in the recording studio, even if some of that work had him playing second trumpet to Buck Clayton or as part of the brass section behind a singer. But this record of activity says to me that various people (Harry Lim, John Hammond, Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Buddy Tate) valued him as a powerful, reliable, creative player — someone who could swing, improvise, blend with a section, sight-read music the first time he saw it.
Buck Clayton’s story of Berry whacking Jimmy Witherspoon in the head with his trumpet when Spoon had been particularly out of line suggests that Berry was not someone to be trifled with, and his phrasing does suggest an expert boxer and dangerous counterpuncher.
But no one seems to have interviewed him during his playing career, and I have it in my memory (true?) that he suffered some sort of late-life mental collapse and retired from music. (What does anyone know of him in the years from 1967 to 1993?)
His sound– so vehement — remains in my ears. On the early Clef sessions with Hodges, on THE SOUND OF JAZZ, backing Rushing on Vanguard — unmistakable.
Here’s “a little good blues” with Earle Warren, Sir Charles Thompson, Gene Ramey, and Oliver Jackson, from 1961:
Berry doesn’t take enough space, and his vehemence is hinted at rather than fully released, but his sound and physical presence are fully evident.
People who listen to jazz, read about it, write about it, seem to be entranced by drama. So many of them are drawn to artists whose careers and lives are boldly delineated: the arc of early promise and a life cut short through self-destructive behavior or illness; the narrative of great achievement that tails off into stark decline. Early Fame, Great Decline. Clifford Brown, Charlie Parker, Jimmie Blanton, Billie Holiday, Charlie Christian, Bix Beiderbecke, Lester Young . . . the list is long.
But what of those musicians who had long careers, functioned at a high level of creativity, were undramatic in their professionalism? They get less media attention in life and in death; their sheer reliability makes them almost shadowy figures. (Of course, if they happen to live long lives — Doc Cheatham, Benny Waters, Eubie Blake, Hank Jones, Lionel Ferbos — then they may get a story in the paper. But that’s another subject.)
One of the greatest trumpet players — also a wonderful composer and arranger — doesn’t get the attention he should: Buck Clayton from Parsons, Kansas, whose recordings over a thirty-year span are exceptional but not always celebrated as they should be. Anyone familiar with the best music of that period can call to mind a dozen sessions that Buck not only plays on, but elevates: consider the dates with Basie, the Kansas City Five and Six and Seven, Billie, Mildred, Teddy and Ben, Hawkins on Keynote, Ike Quebec on Blue Note, his own dates for HRS, the Jam Sessions for Columbia and the later ones for Hank O’Neal’s Chiaroscuro label, his recordings with Mel Powell at Carnegie Hall, the Vanguard sessions, a Verve date with Harry Edison, his own small band (circa 1961), recordings with Jimmy Rushing and Ada Moore and Mae Barnes, with Earl Hines, Bill Coleman, Don Byas, Flip Phillips, Horace Henderson, Sir Charles Thompson, Charlie Parker, Ed Hall, Alex Combelle, Joe Turner, Big Joe Turner, “Jazz From A Swinging Era,” Humphrey Lyttelton, Eddie Condon, J. J. Johnson, Benny Goodman . . . and I am sure I am leaving out many sessions.
Even though Buck was playing jazz in Shanghai in 1934, before he came home and stopped off in Kansas City, he seems to have been a rather undramatic man for all his exploits. He showed up on time for the gig; he could talk to the audience; he wrote excellent charts and swinging originals; he was beautifully dressed; he transcended late-in-life health problems to launch a new career as a bandleader when the trumpet no longer responded to his urgings. How unfortunate to be so bourgeois.
I only encountered him in person once: in 1971, there was a New York Jazz Museum Christmas party (if I have this right) where he was among a large number of musicians advertised as performing. Buck was there, not playing, but splendidly dressed and very polite to a young fan who asked for his autograph. (A side story: the musicians who actually did play, beautifully, were Chuck Folds, Gene Ramey, and Jackie Williams. Someone requested MISTY and Ramey, upon hearing the song title, said, quietly, “I don’t play that shit,” and leaned his bass against the wall for the next three minutes, returning when the music was more to his liking.)
I also saw Buck — perhaps in 1980 — at a Newport in New York concert possibly paying tribute to Billie, with musicians including Zoot Sims and Harry Edison — attempting to return to playing. His beautiful tone was intact on a fairly fast SUGAR, but he was having trouble hitting the notes one could sense he was aiming for . . . heroic but painful.)
Let’s listen to Buck again.
Here are the two takes of WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS from the 1938 Kansas City Six session for Commodore — with Lester Young, Eddie Durham, Walter Page, Freddie Green, Jo Jones. It’s hard not to focus on Lester — but it can be done. Hear Buck, golden, easeful, and lithe . . . the only trumpet player I know who approaches his sly mobility is Bill Coleman of the same period. Like Louis, he constructs his solos logically, one phrase building on its predecessors and looking forward to the next, each one acting as a small melodic building block in a larger arching structure — melodic embellishment with a larger purpose:
Any improvising musician would say that Buck’s solo choruses are not the work of an immature musician and not easy to do; his graceful ensemble playing is the work of a master. But it sounds so easy, as if he were singing through his horn. And that tone!
Here he is in a 1954 session that few know of — a Mel Powell-led jam session at Carnegie Hall, with Ruby Braff, Jay Brower (trumpet), Vernon Brown, Urbie Green (trombone), Tony Scott (clarinet), Lem Davis (alto sax), Buddy Tate, Eddie Shu (tenor sax), Romeo Penque (baritone sax), Mel Powell (piano), Steve Jordan (guitar), Milt Hinton (bass), Jo Jones, Gene Krupa (drums):
Buck appears near the end –just before Gene and Jo trade phrases. And, yes, you read that correctly. A marvel!
Here’s Buck with Ben Webster, Vic Dickenson, Hank Jones, George Duvivier, and Jo Jones in C JAM BLUES (1959):
And after his playing days had ended, as leader / composer / arranger of his own Swing Band, captured in France (1991) on RAMPAGE IN G MINOR:
The other swingers on that stage are Gerry Dodgion, alto; James Chirillo, guitar; Joe Temperley, baritone sax; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Matt Finders, trombone; Doug Lawrence and Arthur “Babe” Clarke, tenor saxophones; Phillipe Combell, drums.; Dick Katz, piano; Dennis Irwin, bass; Bobby Pring, trombone; John Eckert, Greg Gisbert; trumpet.
Someone who hasn’t forgotten Buck Clayton is the UK bassist / writer / radio host Alyn Shipton, who has performed often with Buck’s compositions and arrangements as the Buck Clayton Legacy Band. Here they are in this century performing Buck’s tribute to his friend and fellow brassman Humph, SIR HUMPHREY:
That band is full of people who understand Buck and his music (some of them heroes of mine): Menno Daams, Ian Smith, Adrian Fry, Alan Barnes, Matthias Seuffert, Martin Litton, Martin Wheatley, Alyn Shipton and Norman Emberson.
I would encourage anyone reading this post to go to his or her shelves and take down a recording by Buck and revel in its glories. Milt Hinton used to have a memo pad with this heading (because of his nickname “The Judge”):”You are hereby sentenced to thirty days of listening to good music.” If you were to explore and re-explore Buck Clayton’s jazz world, you would have more than a month of pleasure.
He never provoked controversy; I doubt he will ever have his own online forum with vigorous acrimonious discussion of the minutiae of his life . . . but he created beauty whenever he raised his trumpet, composed a melody, or led a band.
One idyllic version of early twentieth-century modernism is the intersection of great artists considering the same theme. Here, the lost paradise of 1933 where Bing Crosby and Coleman Hawkins could each rhapsodize beautifully on the same song. It was THE DAY YOU CAME ALONG — a sweet romantic rhapsody of love’s fulfillment by Sam Coslow and Arthur Johnston, a Crosby hit from the film TOO MUCH HARMONY. Here’s Bing’s version, where sensuality and delight combine:
That same year, a small band of Coleman Hawkins, Henry “Red” Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Hilton Jefferson, Horace Henderson, Bernard Addison, John Kirby, and Walter Johnson devoted themselves to the same theme:
Nearly ninety years later, the Harlem Jazz Camels pay tribute to the song, to love in swingtime:
This performance (recorded by the very gracious “jazze1947”) comes from Aneby, Sweden, on Feb. 7, 2012. The Camels are Bent Persson, trumpet; Göran Eriksson, alto / clarinet; Stephan Lindsein, trombone; Claes Brodda, clarinet / baritone / tenor; Lasse Lindbäck. string bass; Ulf Lindberg, piano; Sigge Delert, drums; Göran Stachewsky. guitar / banjo.
The IAJRC — the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors –is worth investigating. Record labels come and go; jazz magazines and clubs surface and vanish, but the IAJRC keeps rolling on.
I have to say that I’ve always found the IAJRC’s title a little misleading. “Jazz record collectors,” to some, are gentlemen of a certain age who prefer the great indoors; who can rattle off matrix numbers of obscure Argentinian Odeons — the objects of satire, puzzlement, even pity.
The IAJRC members I know don’t fit that stereotype. More than a few are women. Many are employed, have families and spouses; go out in daylight; can have conversations about subjects beyond the unissued LITTLE BY LITTLE. So if you are reading this post and feeling interested . . . but worried that you will become a swing-Stepford-wife . . . have no fear of collector-contagion.
Seriously, the IAJRC and its members do so much more for and about the music than just acquire these precious artifacts. Yes, they collect “records,” but that means everything from early ragtime to free jazz, from cylinders to film and video. And their aim is ultimately to shed light on the accomplishments of the artists they (and we) admire.
And (here I quote), the IAJRC aims “to advance the cause of jazz music by creating more recognition of the great jazz musicians, by creating an atmosphere favorable to increased public acceptance of jazz as a great American art form, and by attracting more young musicians, listeners and patrons of the art into the field of jazz music.”
They accomplish this in several ways — publishing the quarterly IAJRC JOURNAL and other monographs; encouraging various kinds of research; holding meetings where the members can exchange ideas, information, and hear live jazz.
By the way, the IAJRC has a lively new website: here
The 2012 IAJRC Convention is being held in New Orleans — in a four-star hotel at the corner of Canal and Bourbon (a sufficiently atmospheric location for the jazz GPS). It will take place on September 6-8, and will be full of presentations (scholarly / swinging), good friendship and live music. (My friend Tom Hustad will be giving a presentation on Ruby Braff, complete with video from Ruby’s final recording session — something remarkable!)
The 2011 Convention, by the way, featured creative hot jazz from groups led by our own Mike Durham and the talented Digby Fairweather; the 2010 Convention had the West End Jazz Band with our young hero Andy Schumm.
I have the most recent issue of the JOURNAL — over a hundred large-format pages — and I’ve been reading and admiring it for the last week. There are serious extended research essays on Jimmy Joy’s Orchestra (complete with the band’s itinerary and rare photographs) and a study of “Black Europe” — early African-American musicians venturing beyond the United States — or the photographs of Camarillo State Mental Hospital, where Charlie Parker recuperated. More: pages of enthusiastic record reviews, spanning the whole spectrum of recorded jazz. A chapter of “life-on-the-road” fiction by the venerable Don Manning, and rare advertisements reproduced from old jazz magazines . . . the eye goes from one thing to another, and I found a splendidly balanced mix of information and pleasure. In the center of the issue I read four pages of (free) classified ads from IAJRC members — some offering to sell records, others looking for information. Late in the pages there is a large photograph of Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon, grinning, with baton raised at a serious angle: the caption is “FAN IT!” What more could anyone want?
For three dollars, you may have a sample issue sent to you — details here: journal/samples.
Dues for an individual living in the United States or Canada are $45 / year; $55 outside those areas — and one can pay through PayPal on the website. That’s the cost of three compact discs — and although it’s a paradox to encourage people to join an organization of record collectors by not buying three discs . . . a year’s membership in the IAJRC will give much more pleasure, and you will be part of an enterprise devoted to helping jazz flourish.
P.S. And if you feel CD-deprived in this transaction, know that the IAJRC has produced splendid discs of its own — previously unheard material featuring Al Cohn, Lucky Thompson, Joe Venuti, Joe Haymes, Buck Clayton, Horace Henderson, Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Ed Hall, Dick Wellstood . . . which are available to members at seriously discounted prices.
Through the generosity of the musicians and of “jazze1947,” here are five more marvelous performances by the Harlem Jazz Camels (a group of swinging friends since 1978) — caught live on February 7, 2012, at the Aneby, Sweden, concert hall.
I have posted SISTER KATE from this group — and I must apologize for a slight inaccuracy: the group was led by pianist / arranger Ulf Lindberg, but I hope that he will forgive my hero-worship of Bent. And if readers want to take up a collection to send me to Sweden so that I might apologize to Ulf in person for the slight, I would not object too vigorously.
Besides Ulf and Bent, the Camels are Goran Eriksson, alto, clarinet; Claes Brodda, clarinet, baritone, tenor sax; Stephan Lindsein, trombone; Lasse Lindback, string bass; Sigge Delert, drums; Goran Stachewsky, guitar and banjo.
Let’s start with the 1933 ONCE UPON A TIME, composed by Benny Carter — the glorious trumpeter admired by none other than Louis — for a record date with Chu Berry, Floyd O’Brien, Max Kaminsky, Teddy Wilson, Ernest “Bass” Hill, Lawrence Lucie, and Sidney Catlett — rendered nobly by the Camels:
Some early Ellingtonia — SATURDAY NIGHT FUNCTION:
James P. Johnson’s rollicking and inspirational AIN’T CHA GOT MUSIC (patterned after a Henry “Red” Allen recording):
I believe that the next song is I’M RHYTHM CRAZY NOW (a Horace Henderson arrangement scored for a slightly smaller band — originally featuring Red, Hawkins, and Dicky Wells) — to great effect:
And the delights conclude (for this post) with an evocation of PARDON ME, PRETTY BABY — as recorded by Hawkins, Carter, George Chisholm, Django Reinhardt and other swinging souls in 1937:
Gorgeous hot music. I’d fly four thousand miles for these Camels!
My title is an unconscionable pun on Sondheim’s famous affirmation from FOLLIES.
It’s my way of writing how glad I am that the Sunday night sessions (from 8 to 11 PM, more or less) at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) are happily afloat. This summer The EarRegulars will celebrate their fourth anniversary!
I had missed a number of Ear sessions, so I was delighted to return on April 10, 2011 to find that nothing had been changed in my absence. Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri, on trumpet and guitar, respectively, still offered benign swinging guidance (catch Jon-Erik’s plunger work on HAPPY FEET and Matt’s ringing, chiming solos and fierce rhythm!). The other members were the eloquent bassist Neal Miner and the always surprising Alex Hoffman on tenor sax. Here are three delightful performances from that night.
The first of these is a novelty song with goofy lyrics (about women who wicky-wacky-woo) which used to be a jazz / jam session favorite . . . less so in this century, but NAGASAKI is still a delight:
Then, an EarRegular favorite — bringing together the late Paul Whiteman band and the early-Thirties Henderson orchestra — HAPPY FEET:
These Sunday night music-parties are one of the best things about New York City: long may they continue!
It’s wonderful to spread joy. To me, the concept doesn’t mean acting silly or buying someone a greeting card to send good cheer: it means something larger, creating beauty and sharing it so that other people become deeper and more enlightened.
Readers of JAZZ LIVES won’t be surprised when I say that the EarRegulars and friends spread joy splendidly on the evening of Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011 (from 8-11 PM). As always, they did it at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.
The regular EarRegulars (what pleasure it is to write that!) were Jon-Erik Kellso, trying out a Thirties Conn trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar and vocalizations, both singular. Then we had Mark Lopeman on tenor sax and clarinet and Neal Miner on string bass — both quietly eloquent, nimble individualists. Later, the heroic Pete Martinez brought his clarinet! (In a prior post, I’ve offered the three vocal performances at the end of the evening — by Tamar Korn and Jerron Paxton, with the addition of yet another clarinetist, Bob Curtis.)
But here is some genuine Hot Jazz to warm you up, spiritually and any other way.
WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS is one of those songs that works wonderfully at a number of tempos, from the yearning Bix-and-Tram version (and even slower when performed by Peter Ecklund) to the jogging Kansas City Six (1938) version with Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Eddie Durham or Charlie Christian, Freddie Green, Walter Page, and Jo Jones. I didn’t bring my metronome, so I can’t tell where the EarRegulars romp fits in, but it nearly lifted me out of my seat. Hear the four players cascade, each one in his own way:
I associate BALLIN’ THE JACK with the Blue Note Jazzmen — also, oddly, with a vocal version done in the late Forties by Danny Kaye, someone who could swing in his own fashion when he decided to put the clowning aside. The song — an ancient let’s-learn-to-do-this-dance by Chris Smith — has one of the most seductive verses I know of, and it was a thrill to hear the EarRegulars wend their way through it. Hear how Jon-Erik balls the jack into his first solo chorus:
Mark, Matt, and Neal took time to consider OLD FOLKS, that loving Willard Robison meditation on a much-loved elder member of the family:
Because Mark Lopeman’s band director was in the house and TIGER RAG was the school fight song (what a hip place indeed!) Jon-Erik suggested it. This version is compact (four players rather than thirteen) but it growls and frolics just as energetically. Listen to Lopeman (when is someone going to offer him a chance to do a CD under his own name, please?): he rocks!
James P. Johnson’s OLD-FASHIONED LOVE is, to me a combination of a secular hymn to sweet fidelity given a down-home flavor. I first heard it on the Vic Dickenson Showcase, so many years ago, and it’s never left me. And I like the old-fashioned kind, I do, I do — as do the monogamous fellows of the ensemble. You can hear it in their playing! (It occurs to me that Matt’s tangy twang evokes not only the Mississippi Delta but also George Barnes, whose single-note lines consisted of notes that snapped and crackled. And those wonderful exchanges between Jon-Erik and Neal — a bassist whose solos have strength and resonance.)
The irreplaceable Chris Flory (just returning to action after an accident — we’re so glad he’s back, intact!) took Matt’s place for HAPPY FEET, a song that has the distinction of being connected with Bing Crosby, Paul Whiteman, THE KING OF JAZZ, Fletcher and Horace Henderson, Red Allen, Dicky Wells, Fred Astaire — quite a pedigree (as opposed to “pedicure,” although witty Jon-Erik ends his solo with a kick at TICKLE-TOE!):
And I end this posting with the universal expression of desire (the second movement of the EarRegulars Happiness Suite), I WANT TO BE HAPPY, its delight intensified by a visit from Pete Martinez, who is beyond compare. And the “Flory touch” at the start is completely remarkable; the riffs behind Pete are pure Louis, always a good thing:
On the left, Al Hirt (possibly during his fame in the Sixties). More interesting is a very thin Bobby Hackett on the right, working hard, with someone I can’t identify standing behind him, looking quizzically at the invisible photographer.
At top, the King of Swing, possibly at the Madhattan Room — on the air for CBS. Below, circa 1948: is that Wardell Gray to the extreme left in the saxophone section?
Early Thirties, on the West Coast — CREOLE REVUE . . .
Ellington in the Forties (the first band shot has Ben Webster, Sonny Greer, probably Junior Raglin — 1943?); the second is twenty years or so later, with Lawrence Brown, stalwart, on the far left.
Probably Chicago? Earl Hines, Billy Eckstine on trumpet, Budd Johnson on tenor saxophone. Are the two other musicians Scoops Carey and Shorty McConnell?
I have to say very quietly that I am less interested in Glenn Miller and his many orchestras than many people: what interests me here is not the ghost band below, but the top portrait that has a portly Irving Fazola sitting in the reed section on a gig in Texas, early in Miller’s bandleading career.
Who’s the pretty lady with the astounding hat sitting with Glen Gray on the right? Looks like Miss Mildred to me, grinning happily. Whatever Glen said to her must have been delightful!
Two unrelated Johnsons, J.J. and Gus (they both swung)!
Circa 1937 or 38 — Teddy, Hamp (concentrating hard), and Benny (paying attention): Gene got cut off, but we know he was having fun, too.
The top portrait is just amazing to those of us who are deeply immersed in this art — an autographed picture of Kaiser Marshall in 1938, in Europe (wow!); the second is listed as guitarist Jimmy McLin and saxophonist Earl Bostic, when and where I can’t tell. The beautiful double-breasted suits say “late Thirties,” but that’s only a sartorial guess.
This portrait of the John Kirby Sextet lets us see the diminutive O’Neill Spencer in action — something more unusual than seeing Charlie Shavers, Russell Procope, Buster Bailey, and a pianist who’s not Billy Kyle.
Clockwise: Benny Carter in a familiar publicity pose; a small band featuring Fats Waller’s reliably swinging drummer Slick Jones, and a famous shot from the Columbia studios, 1940, of John Hammond’s noble experiment melding the Basie and Goodman stars in what might have been the world’s finest small jazz band.
A famous Chicago studio portrait from 1936 but still gratifying: the rhythm section of Fletcher Henderson’s Grand Terrace Orchestra: Israel Crosby, bass; Bob Lessey, guitar; Horace Henderson, piano; Sidney Catlett, drums.
Late Twenties, early Fifties, perhaps for Ben Pollack? Jack Teagarden and Benny in the first photo, perhaps Charlie Teagarden (and the Pick-A-Rib Boys) in the second.
Lee Young and J. C Higginbotham, both middle Forties if the suits are evidence.
There’s that Louis fellow again! Ecstatically with Trummy Young (and an invisible Barrett Deems) at top, with Danny Kaye in THE FIVE PENNIES (1959) below.
GOING PLACES indeed! Louis, Maxine Sullivan, Johnny Mercer . . . no doubt rehearsing JEEPERS CREEPERS.
And a delightful piece of memorabilia from Phil Schaap’s new website — which not only features artifacts autographed by Wynton Marsalis and jazz broadcasts from WKCR, but also tangible morsels of jazz history. Can you hear Lips Page and Johnny Windhurst swapping lead and improvised countermelody? I certainly can imagine it! Visit http://www.philschaapjazz.com for more.