Tag Archives: hot cornet

CONFESSIN’

Muggsy_Spanier

I just acquired the late Bert Whyatt’s bio-discography of Muggsy Spanier, THE LONESOME ROAD.  Published by Jazzology Press in 1995, it feels fresh.

I read non-fiction books haphazardly, especially when I know the shape of the narrative, but for some reason I began this one at the beginning, where Bert wrote of his connection with Ruth, Muggsy’s widow, and her wholehearted cooperation in the book, which combines his research with her unpublished memoir.

I found this passage on page 7 and think it moving beyond simple explanation. (Note: in his last years, the Spaniers lived in Sausalito, California, a town the Beloved and I came to know):

One evening, we [Bert and his wife and Ruth] returned to Sausalito from San Francisco and Ruth asked us to pull the car off the road which runs down from the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge.

“We often would stop here for a last cigarette after the Club Hangover had closed for the night,” she said.  “It helped Muggsy to unwind and we would usually sit quietly, saying little.  Sometimes he would seek reassurance that I loved  him. ‘I feel so lonely and afraid,’ he would say. I would remind him of the affection felt for him worldwide, of all his friends who loved him and, of course, that I did too.”

She paused and then said, “If we ever get that book finished, we should call it ‘Muggsy Spanier: The Lonesome Road.'”

My first reaction to this little tale was astonishment, then sorrow.  To think that a man so much at one with his art, after an evening of sharing joy through his music, could feel so desolate and frightened, was nearly shattering.

I then thought wryly that I had been wrong in assuming that playing hot cornet was armor against existential dread. . . . that a plunger mute could keep such essential anxiety at a distance.

But even as I felt sorrow and sympathy for Muggsy, I was flooded with pride and admiration.  He was born in 1901, and it might be cliched to write  that men of that generation were told it was unmanly to reveal their hearts with such openness, perhaps even to their wives.  Being male required staunchness and emotional reserve. Oh, one could say “I love you!” to one’s Beloved, one could woo the person one wanted to be intimate with by using words like those, one could say it to children.  But to say I NEED LOVE and I AM AFRAID was not something men were trained or encouraged to do. Candor like that might have seemed a confession of weakness.

But somehow Muggsy knew that his emotions were the magical element that made him able to play the blues, or the love song that he aimed directly at Ruth in their courtship, I’M CONFESSIN’. Love was at the center of his art.  And such heartfelt candid utterance.  And he found the courage to push aside his expected role and, in the darkness, speak his truths.

I celebrate Ruth also for creating an atmosphere where her husband could confess his inmost heart and receive reassurance and love, not dismissal or mockery.  She must have understood her husband’s need as genuine and commendable.  She didn’t say to him, “What is wrong with you, talking like that?”

Perhaps she knew that it takes a brave individual to openly say, “I am afraid,” an honest one to say, “I am lonely.”

Because of this anecdote, the man I admired as a jazz musician is now enhanced rather than diminished, a figure larger and more beautiful than an anxious man seeking reassurance.  Muggsy Spanier, perhaps an unlikely figure, is the embodiment of our deep need for love — a hero of that exalted emotion.  He seems to have known that without it, we wither.

His own road might have been lonesome, but I find his openness inspiring and brave.

May your happiness increase!

HOT STRINGS AT MONTEREY (Dixieland Monterey 2011: The Final Set)

I know it’s subjective, but I find some instruments intrinsically more pleasing than others.  I am slightly ashamed that when someone asked, “Are you going to hear the four-banjo set at the Wharf Theatre?” the words “four” and “banjos” in such proximity made me a little nervous.

But then I got more information.  “It should be good, Michael.  The four banjos will be played by Clint Baker, Katie Cavera, Paul Mehling, and John Reynolds.  Marc Caparone will play bass, and Ralf Reynolds will swing out on the washboard and blow his whistle whenever he hears a musical ‘Foul!'”

I headed north to the Wharf with expectations that it would be, well, not bad.  I could endure four banjos . . .

The music I heard not only lifted me out of my seat but is a rebuke to my inherent jazz snobbery.  This set swung as hard as anything I’ve ever heard live, and you will see that I ain’t jiving.

And since I am still grappling with a wicked cold as I write this post, I think of Aimee Gauvin’s words (when he put on his white coat and became Dr. Jazz): GOOD FOR WHAT AILS YOU!

For once, I will present with a minimum of comment.  If this music needs explanation (and the onstage speakers are wonderfully, hilariously articulate), you need more than Sudafed.

Politically incorrect intro, please?  CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN:

Something for Louis!  SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY:

John explains that shiny thing!  DIGA DIGA DOO:

Clint warns us — SOME OF THESE DAYS:

Did you know the secret rules of banjo culture?  Now you do.  And Katie (Baby Face) explains it all, in the key of Ab.  I wanted so badly to sing along but didn’t want my voice to overwhelm the video, so you are encouraged to sing loudly at home:

Something pretty — the 1931 DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME:

Paul reinforces the banjo’s international theme with DARK EYES:

Once Katie explains the great gender-divide, we can head into what I think is a highlight of my life in 2011.  If you watch only clip in this posting (perhaps being banjo-timid) please watch this one. Surprises abound!  Watch out for flying cornets on CHARLEY, MY BOY:

Something hinting at Claude Hopkins and Fletcher Henderson c. 1932-33, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE.  Identify the quotations and win the prize:

Since these folks love their home state, what would be a better closer than CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME with a cornet interlude:

My pal Ricky Riccardi says he wants to see the Reynolds Brothers on Mount Rushmore — a fine sentiment.  But I am a man of more modest dreams.  I’d like to hear the Reynolds Brothers’ music being played on jazz / vintage pop radio shows — do any of my readers have a radio program?  Get in touch with me!

I’d like to see the Brothers appearing at jazz festivals outside of their home state.  California will just have to stop being selfish and allow the boys to travel.  We’ll change that restrictive law.  What, New York doesn’t need ferocious, hilarious swing?  England?  Really!

These are the last of the videos I took at Monterey — a mere ninety or so.  I am very proud of what I captured and have shared, and am only sad that I didn’t take more . . . But Rae Ann Berry (that’s SFRaeAnn to YouTube) has posted videos of a session or two that I didn’t catch, so head on over to YouTube to see more.

I know it is a bad idea to rush time away — with every day a wrapped box full of surprises! — but I can’t wait for the 2012 Jazz Bash By The Bay.  Thanks to all of the musicians for lifting the stage up and up and up; thanks to Sue Kroninger for creating a wonderful world for all of us to float in for that weekend.

I will close with a very personal note.

At the end of the set, Clint — who has a heart as big as the Bay Area — asked all the musicians to sign his banjo head.  I watched from a distance, not wanting to intrude.  How sweet!  His way of saying, “I never want to forget this moment, and we are all brothers and sisters.”  Then he asked me to sign it also.

I have never been so honored in my life.

I’ve won awards.  I’ve had my books reviewed in the New York Times.  But to be handed a Sharpie and encouraged to sign was something I wouldn’t have had the temerity to dream of.  I wrote only three words, “With deep love,” but that was what I felt and feel.  No one is going to ask me to sit in by playing, and that’s a good thing for the jazz cosmos, but I’ve been embraced by the people I love and admire.

WOW! to quote the Sage, Eddie Erickson.

ANDY SCHUMM COMES ON (IN TWO TAKES)

Good news!  Andy Schumm, the sterling cornetist, is making a New York visit.  He’ll be playing at The Ear Inn this coming Sunday (October 24) with our other delightful visitor from afar Dan Barrett, Matt Munisteri, Scott Robinson on bass sax — a heavenly jazz crew!  And no doubt other New York friends and admirers who have their horns with them.  That’s 326 Spring Street from 8-11 PM. 

I confess that I would like the Ear to be jammed with sympathetic wise listeners who sit reverently and know that SUSIE (OF THE ISLANDS) was issued in two takes.  But I hope the throng of admiring Bixians will save me a seat at the bar, too. 

And — long-term good news — Andy’s just started his own website: www.andyschumm.com.  You can see what a pleasure and resource it’s going to be — not just the usual LOOK AT ME! extravaganza.  Andy wants to make his site a place where people can chat about their jazz interests, share their discoveries, get answers to their questions — which will be valuable indeed.  Do take a look!