Tag Archives: Howard Kadison

“THE COMPLETE LIPSKIN RECORDINGS OF DONALD LAMBERT,” ALMOST AN HOUR OF CONCENTRATED DELIGHT, AND MORE . . .

To me — and I am not alone — Donald Lambert is one of the most fascinating and elusive figures in jazz.

Poe would have called him someone hidden in plain sight.

A stride pianist of legendary inventiveness, he recorded little that was issued commercially in his lifetime, yet if you were living in or close to New Jersey, the Lamb (“the Jersey Rocket,” “the Lamb of God”) was playing regularly in Wallace’s Tavern for a number of years. I am very fortunate in that I have been able to add to the knowledge of Lambert — if you search his name on JAZZ LIVES you will find videos of him at the Newport Jazz Festival, an issue of a specialist newspaper devoted to his life and music, and endearing first-hand recollections of him by “his drummer,” my friend Howard Kadison. (I am not putting those posts in the foreground here, because I don’t want to take attention away from the marvels that follow.)

But, as they say, wonders never cease. In the last twenty-four hours, I have met the scholar of this music Sterling J. Mosher III, who goes by “Sugar Bear Mosher” on YouTube — subscribe to his channel for more delights. Facebook can be a lurid annoyance, but I found myself in a discussion of materials pertaining to Lambert — a discussion involving, among others, Robert Pinsker, Mark Borowsky, Sterling, and the ever-surprising Mike Lipskin, pianist and on-the-scene witness and participant. And in the world of music “criticism” and music “collectors,” how lovely to see adults working generously towards the common end. In harmony, you might say.

If you think this trail of words is leading up to something, you’re correct.

How about nearly an hour of Lambert, solo, playing what he liked to play, music whose existence had been known but that hadn’t been easily audible? Here ‘t’is, as Fats occasionally said.

I don’t yet know the exact date(s) of these recordings, nor the medium with which they were preserved (standard recording tape of the time, circa 1960-61, or wire recordings — they do not have the audio artifacts of disc recordings), nor the circumstances under which Mike created them. But those bits of essential information will surface. Right now we have the MUSIC, and it is so refreshing, vigorous, and personally idiosyncratic that it is a treasure, a little world unto itself. The piano is no one’s Bosendorfer, but its sound is not abusive. And we hear Lambert storming through uptempo fireworks displays, ruminating on rhythm ballads and popular songs, striding the classics, playing two songs at once, and more. He’s having fun — there are many well-executed musical in-jokes — and he always swings.

It is as if a door to the past, one that we hoped for but didn’t dare to imagine, swung open, inviting us in, and urging us to make ourselves welcome by the piano for just under an hour.

Here is Sterling’s introduction and a list of the songs Lambert played:

Special Thanks To my good friend, “Uncle” Mike Lipskin for making these recordings of Donald Lambert. Also special thanks to an equally good friend, Robert Pinsker for his aid in making this happen. A few of them are choppy near the beginning or end (Marked as partial in time stamps), and a couple have some damaged portions with no sound. All in all, these are a treasure and have only been heard until this moment likely by a handful of ears. Mike, we appreciate you so much for doing this back in the day and allowing us to release it publicly for ease of access. (Pardon the misspelling of Oscar MICHEAUX)

00:00 Tenderly (Partial) 01:14 I Know That You Know (Partial) 02:34 Sweet Lorraine (Partial) 04:02 Hallelujah (Damaged) 06:11 Harlem Strut (Partial, sounds like a hint at On Green Dolphin Street for the start!) 07:53 Carolina Shout (Partial) 10:26 Tea for Two 13:31 The Bells of St. Mary’s (Partial) 15:42 “Meditation” intermezzo from the opera “Thaïs” by Massanet 16:52 Elegie (Partial, amazing to hear another recording of this! Sounds as hot as the 1941 recording) 19:28 Twelfth Street Rag 21:36 Blue Lou 23:46 St. James Infirmary 25:07 Honeysuckle Rose 27:17 Keep Your Temper (Hold Your Temper) 29:32 Love Me Or Leave Me 31:58 Tea For Two (Partial, damaged) 33:04 Limehouse Blues (Really HOT!!!) 34:27 Jitterbug Waltz (EASILY competes with Fats’s recordings! Truly beautiful.) 37:26 Hallelujah (Partial) 40:21 Moonglow 42:26 Overnight (This is now the third known recording by The Lamb. Louis Mazetier and Federico Insoli are star performers of this early 1930s song, influenced by The Jersey Rocket himself. Listen to the last few chorus lines, especially at 44:58! Absolutely incredible how he plays with that rolling style) 45:47 Liza 48:48 Love Nest 51:50 Golden Wedding (A true Lambert knock out!)

And while you and I were sleeping, Sterling added this gem, a 1960 performance of CHINA BOY — Lambert among hot players, their names perhaps lost to history:

and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE by the same or similar group of energetic homegrown players:

As if that were not enough, here is another trove of Lambert — the complete 1949 Circle recordings, unissued at the time, thanks to Mark Borowsky:

00:00 Golden Earrings 03:12 Overnight 06:18 Blue Waltz 09:23 Harlem Strut 12:08 Tea For Two 15:10 Russian Lullaby 18:25 Lullaby In Rhythm 21:24 Liza

This is the second time this week I have been absolutely speechless.

Sterling assures me that much more previously unheard Lambert is waiting in the wings for us . . . . astonishing. Blessings on the Lamb and his friends who keep his sound alive. Lambert’s gravestone is here to remind us that our temporal lives are finite, but what we create lives on — in his case, so splendidly.

May your happiness increase!

REMEMBERING KENNY (Part Two): Words BY MIKE KAROUB, HOWARD KADISON, JAMES CHIRILLO, KEVIN DORN, DAN BLOCK. Music by KENNY DAVERN, JOHNNY WINDHURST, CUTTY CUTSHALL, DAVE FRISHBERG, JACK SIX, CLIFF LEEMAN (1961)

 

kennydavern-1_v1000

HOWARD KADISON:  Sunday nights, I’d sometimes go with Davern to Ratner’s Dairy Restaurant on Second
Avenue. The waiters were noted for their abrasiveness and truculence. Kenny would
bait them: “How are the blintzes?” “They’re always good.” “I didn’t ask about always, I
asked about NOW!” And so it would go, ending in a generous tip.

DAN BLOCK:  Kenny had a mind like an encyclopedia. His knowledge not only of jazz, but archival classical recordings was amazing. My last memory was hanging out with him in New Orleans after he played in a bookstore with Bob Wilber. He held court with three or four of us for about an hour and a half. It was unforgettable.

KEVIN DORN: Something he said to me, sitting at the bar of the Cornerstone: “It’s one thing to come up with your own sound in a style that’s brand new. But to come up with your own sound in a style that’s older, that was there already, is a different and difficult challenge.” I always thought that was a deep observation and something he certainly achieved.

JAMES CHIRILLO: Every note he played had a sound as big as a house, no matter the register, and every note had an intensity that said: “This is how it’s supposed to go.” I still miss him.

MIKE KAROUB: I was playing bass in Jim Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band and we played opposite Davern at a show at the University of Chicago, some time between 1990-92. He might have been there with Butch Thompson or his own group. (Butch had Franz Jackson also.)

I checked into the Blackstone Hotel. Never having met Davern, I saw him outside. I walked up to him in my trench coat – Kenny looking tough in a leather coat — and said, “Uncle Ken, I need a Lucky Strike.” (Or I may have said, “Kenny, give me a Lucky Strike,” but you get the idea.) He said, “OK, man,” and handed me one. He instinctively knew I wasn’t a real hood. We chatted for a second, then later, probably at the intermission. Strangely, I don’t recall if there was a closing number with massed bands, “all hands on deck,” so I have no recollection of playing with him!

I know that when we were teenagers, I told my dear friend Jon-Erik Kellso, “If I ever meet Davern, I’m going to wear a trench coat like the Detroit mafia and demand a Lucky Strike.” I think he was bemused by our. 25 year old impetuous behavior.

Ten years later, at the Atlanta Jazz Party, after my set with Banu Gibson, I went to catch Kenny’s set and sat in front. He waved, and after the show he came down to me. I said, “Uncle Ken, I brought us some Luckies.” He had exhausted his supply (he was very dedicated) so I was in like Flynn.

“Michael, my nephew, I am so glad you could make it.” He sat down, ordered us coffee, and told stories about being on the road with Jack Teagarden.

I have no idea how he knew who I was unless Jon-Erik tipped him off (although I barely saw Jon, who was a floating “all star”) or saw the program or remembered me from Chicago. I believe he smoked unfiltered Lucky Strikes (unfiltered Camels his second choice). In any case, he acted like it was the biggest deal that I came to his show. And I was really some long lost relative. I was kept too busy for the rest of the festival to see Uncle Ken. Again or ever again, as it turned out. Ordinarily, I’m not that forward but. something told me this was a once in lifetime deal and to seize the day.

MICHAEL STEINMAN: I saw him a few times when I was still in college and shy (complicated by my attempts to record every note on some variety of tape). One Sunday, I’d seen him in the late afternoon at a Your Father’s Mustache Balaban and Cats session, and then my friend and I went down to the Half Note to hear Ruby Braff. Kenny walked in, I saw him, and exuberantly said, “Kenny!” and seeing his amused expression — part “Who the hell are you?” and part suppressed hilarity, I remembered my place in the cosmos and said, “Mister Davern . . . ” and he looked at me and said, in mock-hauteur, “Oh, pardonnez-moi,” gave me a satiric look and walked away.  When I saw him for the last time, in Denver, October 2006, I thought it prudent to leave that incident in the past.

And now for some delightful rare music.

The tape that follows (audio only) isn’t from my collection, but the dropouts vanish after three minutes.  Recorded by Dave Frishberg, It’s the only evidence I know of Kenny Davern’s Washington Squares, a band he loved, performing at Nick’s in 1961.  The repertoire is ancient; the inventiveness and energy are startling.  It’s Kenny, clarinet; Johnny Windhurst, cornet; Cutty Cutshall, trombone; Dave, piano; Jack Six, string bass; Cliff Leeman, drums.  I read in Edward N. Meyer’s biography of Kenny, JUST FOUR BARS, that Buzzy Drootin was the chosen drummer (imagine a world where your sub on the job is Cliff?), that Buzzy recommended Frishberg, and that Frishberg brought along Jack Six.  Unusual and uplifting partners for such a band, but everyone is in exceptional form.

Did I say we miss Kenny Davern?  We certainly do.

May your happiness increase!

Bunk Johnson FB

“EACH DAY BROUGHT JOY”: HOWARD KADISON CELEBRATES CONNIE JONES

Connie Jones was an earthly being.  I saw him eat ice cream, talk about football, smile affectionately at his wife.  And of course, I saw him play the cornet, and sing.  But my encounters with him from 2011-2015 convinced me that although he resided in an ordinary envelope, his soul was always striving for beauty, too large for mere mortal things.  He visited us; he left us; his spirit vibrates on.

Consider this:

and this:

and this:

Connie’s playing seems as close to celestial architecture as we might encounter.  I am not the only one who felt this.  My friend Howard Kadison — who appears on recordings with Connie’s Crescent City Jazz Band but whom I knew first as Donald Lambert’s chosen drummer — told me this about Connie:

I worked in Connie’s band for about seven years, off and on, mostly on, and I went to Bogota, Colombia with him during the Bicentennial in 1976. We were there for a month, playing. Part of it was a trade show and part was a Fourth of July celebration at the embassy there. We stayed in a hotel for a month and did a nightly performance.

What was interesting about Connie: of all the musicians I’ve ever known, he was one of the most principled, one of the most studious.

He was a good guy. He could be a tough leader. He once was in a jam, and he hired a guy to play tuba who wasn’t a very good player, and I was having a hell of a time trying to keep things together, and Connie turned around. There was a little riser for the drums, so he put his face right in my face, and he turned around and said, “I don’t know what the hell’s going on back here. Fix it.” That’s all that he said: “Fix it.” I was so pissed that I couldn’t see straight, like I’m supposed to teach this guy how to play?

He could be tough, he could be demanding, but he had a good sense of humor, and he was fun to work with. He was a very very specific kind of a player. He always said he just wanted to play with a good stand-up Dixieland band, that was his phrase.

I brought Connie and Dick Sudhalter together. At one point in my life — it’s the only time as an adult that I wasn’t playing full time — I was very lucky, once I started working, I never stopped. At one point I took a gig on the steamboat, the Delta Queen, on the Mississippi River, and I ended up staying with the gig for ten years, but not playing in the band. I became a manager. I still don’t understand how it happened, but I had a friend who was in the management part of the company and I ended up being in the entertainment department, and subsequently I became director of operations of the land part of the cruise. As you know, putting together all the things that happened “on the bank,” as they called it, on the shore, where they would have all these programs.

I knew Dick Sudhalter from a gig I had in Cape Cod, years before, and I ran into him again and thought he’d be a perfect guy to get to know Connie. I wanted to put a program together where they’d both play on the boat and talk about jazz, because we had jazz cruises. They were on the boat together — remember when we had that Black Tuesday, in the Eighties, with the stock market? — they were both on the boat, on the Cumberland River, in the Nashville area, they were working on that program and I was hanging out with them. They had put together a program where they would both play trumpet and talk about music. It never reached fruition, but they got to know each other, and that recording took place. Getting them together was purely accidental. At the time I was working part-time, playing for Al Hirt, and working for the Delta Queen. Eventually I quit, and went with Jumbo full-time in 1992.

I wanted to tell you one story about Connie that speaks volumes about who he was and what he was. I was working for him, and I had to get a night off, because I had a gig that really paid well. Connie was the kind of guy who would say, “You can make some money? Do it.” He hired a guy named Al Babin. Al was a New Orleans drummer who had what they call a broom route: people sell brooms door-to-door in New Orleans, for housewives, the New Orleans version of the Fuller Brush man. Babin was a great fan of the drummer Monk Hazel, a wonderful self-taught drummer who’s on a lot of recordings. Babin could play just like Hazel, and Connie used to love Hazel’s playing on all those Southland recordings. He hired Babin that night, and watched him very intently, and when I came back to work the next night, and at the end of the gig, he said, “You want to hang a little? I want to talk to you.” He sat down behind the drums and showed me everything he’d watched Babin do, and he could play them perfectly.

And he explained the way Hazel would build in the ensembles, and developed this tremendous push, and he even showed me the grip, the way Hazel would hold the stick. He would play the outchorus on the Chinese cymbal, and he would hold the stick between his index finger and second finger, rather than between his thumb and index, and he would play with the shoulder of the sick on the edge of the cymbal. Connie had watched Babin doing this, very carefully, and he showed me how it was done. It wasn’t necessary, to get that sound, but it interested me that Connie was so astute and careful, that he showed me every aspect of Babin’s playing, which helped me understand more about Hazel’s playing. That’s the kind of musician Connie was.

He was very strong in harmony. He shared that with Bobby Hackett, who had a great harmonic knowledge. Hackett, of course, played guitar with Glenn Miller part of the time. Connie played good piano, and saxophone. But the thing he was most proud of, his father had the parking lot at the Jung Hotel in New Orleans, and Connie used to work for his father sometimes, and he said he could drive a car in reverse faster than anyone.

Connie was like a singer. He would sing on his horn. He played beautiful, lovely music. There was a lyricism. He was funny, too. He said something once that really struck me. Before my wife and I bought our house, we had an apartment on the very last block of Bourbon: we were on the other side of the Esplanade. Connie would always park over there, and we’d walk to our gig. We’d walk about six or eight French Quarter blocks from my house. We had an afternoon gig at that point, we would start at noon and work until four or five. It wasn’t Connie’s gig; we were working for another leader together.

He’d come over and we’d hang, have coffee in my kitchen. We were talking one day, and he just blurted out — it was completely out of context, a surprising thing he said, “If you had one day left to live, what would you do?” Just a question out of the air. I thought about it a while, and said, “I’d probably just do what I’m doing. I’m having a nice time, and it’s fun, so I don’t imagine I’d do anything differently.” I came back at him, and said, “What would you do?” He looked at me and said, “Practice.” I never forgot that, and I’ve thought about it a lot since then.

Connie, location and date unknown, inscribed to Al White, jazz party photographer.

Here’s a little more music from the last time I had the honor of being in Connie’s presence: on the top deck of the steamboat Natchez, during the 2015 Steamboat Stomp.  He’s accompanied by Ray Heitger, clarinet; Tom Saunders, tuba; Neil Unterseher, banjo, singing and playing SUGAR (September 19, 2015):

When Connie moved on, in 2019, at 84, Howard wrote, “He was my friend and teacher.  It was a privilege to know him, share time with him, and play music with him.  Each day brought joy.”

Although I was only an audience member, I understand this.  That joy continues.

May your happiness increase!

HOT PIANO AND WELCOME DRUMS, 2019: “GUILLAUME NOUAUX & THE STRIDE PIANO KINGS”

Although the idea of stride piano is that the singular player on the piano bench is able to simulate the depth and textures of a larger ensemble in their solo playing, I recall very clearly that my earliest exposure to stride playing was in hearing duets between piano and drums: James P. Johnson and Eddie Dougherty (and Sidney Catlett’s work with James P. as part of a rhythm section), Donald Lambert and Howard Kadison . . . later, Willie “the Lion” Smith and Jo Jones — and of course, Fats Waller with Al Casey, bass, and drums.  So there is a real tradition, and an intuitive percussionist is a bonus rather than an intrusion.

Guillaume Nouaux is such a player, and his new CD is wonderful.  But you don’t have to take my non-playing word for it: I shared it with Mr. Kadison, the man about whom Donald Lambert said, “That’s my drummer!” and Howard was delighted by it.

“Delight” is appropriate here, because listening again to the CD — once won’t be enough for anyone — I was reminded of one of the stories I’ve probably told too often here, my feeling when Jo Jones came and sat in with Ellis Larkins and Al Hall.  Guillaume is just that kind of player: varied, intuitive, swinging, always making great sounds, adding some flavors that increase our aural joys.  He is a wonderful accompanist — like a great witty conversationalist who always knows the right thing to say, or perhaps a sly supple dance partner — but also a splendid melodic soloist, someone whose terse outings are shapely and welcome.  I can’t emphasize enough the glorious variety of sounds he gets out of his kit, although he’s not fidgety (some drummers won’t stay in one place for more than four bars) so he’s not restricted to one approach.  He can be very gentle, but he can also create great joyous noises.  (Hear his MOP MOP on this disc.) And neither he nor his great collection of pianists is aiming for the consciously archaic: the music on this disc isn’t trying to wear the same trousers it wore in adolescence, if you get the metaphor.

Each of the seven pianists (some very well-known to me, others new marvels) has two selections — loosely speaking, one up and one down — which is to say one a quick-tempoed stride showcase, the other more ruminative, which makes this disc so refreshing.  The songs are HARLEM STRUT / DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM / I WISH I WERE TWINS / WILLOW WEEP FOR ME / RUNNIN’ WILD / JITTERBUG WALTZ / CHEROKEE – SALT PEANUTS / WHY DID YOU TELL ME “I LOVE YOU”? / HANDFUL OF KEYS / OVERNIGHT / MOP MOP (For Big Sid) — Guillaume’s brief solo feature / TEA FOR TWO / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM / THE LADY IS A TRAMP / OVER THE RAINBOW.

Before you read a syllable more: discs and downloads can be obtained through Bandcamp here.  It’s also one of those rare discs — because of its premise (a rainbow of artists) that I play all the way through with pleasure.  And I believe you can hear some of the music for yourself there.  But if you need sonic breakfast-in-bed, here are Guillaume and Louis Mazetier trotting deliciously through DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM:

You can find out more about Guillaume and his imaginative projects here.

I will leave it to you to decide who plays on which track — it would make a very sophisticated Blindfold Test even for those who consider themselves stride experts.

Several other things need to be said.  The recorded sound is lovely (the piano is well-tuned and the balance between piano and drums, ideal).  You might think this is overly finicky of me, but one of my favorite sessions ever is the 1956 PRES AND TEDDY, where — I believe — the piano could have been tuned again before the session: I hear its glassy-tinkly upper registers and wince.  Not so here.

The repertoire is in part familiar, but hooray! no AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, no HONEYSUCKLE ROSE.  And although both stride piano and jazz drumming are, even at slow tempos, displays of athleticism (try tapping your finger for three minutes and keeping steady time), this isn’t a collection of fifteen kinds of Fast and Loud.  Oh, there’s dazzling playing here . . . but there are also caresses and meanders of the best kind.  And each of the pianists brings his own particular approach to the material.  The CD delights me, and I think it will do the same for you.

Fats would have called it “a killer-diller from Manila.”  Don’t be the last one on your block to be grinning.

May your happiness increase!

“BANG A FEW NOTES”: HOWARD KADISON REMEMBERS DONALD LAMBERT (5.5.20)

A long post follows, with many new stories.

My awareness of the amazing musician Donald Lambert began in 1970, when I heard this music coming out of my FM radio speaker when Ed Beach (WRVR-FM of sainted memory) offered a program of Lambert’s then few recordings:

I loved then and still love the beautiful carpet of the verse.  But I was uplifted by the rollicking tempo and swing of the chorus.  And not only by the pianist, but by the drummer, cavorting along — not overbearing, but personal and free, saying “Yeah!” to Lambert at every turn, but not too often.

The magic possible in cyberspace has made it possible for me to talk with Howard Kadison, the nimble drummer on that recording and — no cliche, a witness to history, because he knew and played with people we revere.  First, he and Audrey VanDyke, another gracious scholar, made available to me the text of an entire periodical devoted to the Lamb, which I have posted here eight months ago.  It’s an afternoon’s dive, I assure you: I’ve also presented the two fuzzy videos of Lambert, solo, at Newport, July 1, 1960, that are known on YouTube.

But Howard and I finally had a chance to talk at length, and I can offer you the very pleasing and sometimes surprising results.  Howard doesn’t have a high profile in the jazz world, and I suspect he is content with that.  But he played drums with Danny Barker, Connie Jones, George Finola, and many others whose names he recalls with pleasure.  However, he was most famous to me as the drumming sidekick — the delightful accompanist — to stride piano legend Donald Lambert.  The session they created for Rudi Blesh (pictured above) always lifts my spirits.  As did my conversation with the man himself.

On May 5, Howard graciously talked to me about “Lamb” and his experiences being Lambert’s drummer of choice — both at Frank Wallace’s High Tavern in West Orange, New Jersey, and in the recording studio.  Sit back and enjoy his beautiful narrative.  He was there, and he loved Lambert.

HOWARD KADISON REMEMBERS DONALD LAMBERT

 I always fooled around with the drums.  I was really drum-crazy — I used to have a telephone book with brushes, and I’d play with the radio when I was fourteen, fifteen, twelve years old.  I always liked music and if I heard a song I could always remember it.  I had come from a divorced home and was dividing my time between Chicago and Miami when my parents split up.  And when I was in Miami I heard a radio station, WMBM, “The Rockin’ MB,” Miami Beach, and I didn’t know what kind of music it was, but it was jazz.  I had no idea about jazz.  And I listened to it and just fooled around with it.  Then I went on to college, and in my junior year, I really decided that I wanted to play drums.  Whenever there was music in Miami, I would go to whatever event it was.  I always had a peripheral interest.

In 1959, I went to New York, and was very serious about it, and started taking lessons.  When I was in college, I was an econ major, so it was quite a change.  I studied with Jim Chapin initially, and for a long while with George Gaber.  I had an endless series of day jobs, and one of them had me working in the mailroom of ABC.  George Gaber was a staff percussionist, and he was a brilliant teacher who eventually ran the percussion program at Indiana University.  But before he left New York I studied with him for a couple of years.  The way I met him was he was practicing one day — he came in and was warming up — and I watched him.  I was delivering mail, and he just started talking to me.  He asked me if I was a drummer, because I was watching him so intently.  I told him I was trying to be, and he took me under his wing.

While I was there, I ran into a banjoist and guitar player who became one of my mentors, Danny Barker.  Danny was playing at a place called the Cinderella, which was on West Third Street in the Village.  He kept in touch with me, and he started giving me little gigs that would come up.  And there were a bunch of guys playing around at that time.  There was a wonderful piano player named Don Coates, and Ed Polcer, and Kenny Davern and Dick Wellstood.  They were all older than I, but I got to know them a little bit.  I started working, just gradually.  And then Don Coates, who was from Jersey, brought me out to hear Don Lambert play.  I just thought it was the most wonderful music.  I forget exactly how it happened, but this was shortly after Lambert had gone to Newport in July 1960.

Danny Barker told me that Don came up on the bandstand at Newport, at what they called the Old-Timers concert in the early afternoon, and there were a lot of good stride players there, and he got up and, to use Danny’s words, “this old man killed everybody. He got up there and played and scared the crap out of everybody in the place.”  And Danny never used language like that. “He left those people there shaking like a leaf.”

So I met Lambert through Don Coates, and Lambert said, “If you ever want to come in and bring a snare drum, there’s not much room back here, but you can bang a few notes with me.”  That’s a direct quote.  So I took the Hudson Tubes to Newark, and then got on a bus, and finally found myself in West Orange, New Jersey, I think it was, and would walk from the bus to Wallace’s High Tavern, which was where Lambert was playing.  I brought a snare drum, and played some brushes.

I should explain.  He played behind a long oval bar on a platform which was just enough room for a baby grand piano.  Guys would come sit in with him occasionally, but there wasn’t a whole lot of room to play with.  Anyway, I played a couple of tunes, and as I was leaving, Frank Wallace came up to me — he was the owner of the  place — and he said, “Would you like to come in once and a while and play?  Lambert enjoyed your playing.”  You know, Lambert didn’t talk to me; he did.  And I said yes: I didn’t know he was offering me a gig, I thought he was just talking to me to come in and play once in a while.  I did it a couple more times, and then he said, “What would be involved to get a set of drums back here?”  I said, “Well, there’s not much room.”  There was just room for a snare drum to fit in one little place.  I used sit near a display of alcohol on one side and Lambert on the other, and in the middle there was a cash register where he would ring up the sales.  He had me sitting next to the cash register, and when he’d ring up a sale, if I wasn’t careful and didn’t duck, the drawer would hit me in the head, which I’m sure explains a lot of my behavior these days.

Anyway, he figured out a way of getting a bass drum in there, and he moved some things under the bar.  I think there was a connection to a sink or something, he kind of juggled some stuff and I was able to get a small bass drum in there, a hi-hat, and one cymbal.  It was pretty cramped in there, but I was able to do it.  And I started playing on a regular basis, about three nights a week, and it was eight bucks a night plus a sandwich, one of those heated sandwiches where they use an electric bulb and they put them in those cases.  I was working days, and Frank would drive me to the train station after the gig, and I’d take the train home, back to New York City.  But I would go there by bus, from Port Authority bus station, through the Hudson Tubes, and then a pretty long walk.  I’d have to leave the drums there.  That went on for a while.

There was one very critical thing that happened that was helpful.  The set-up didn’t allow me to see Lambert while he was playing.  We would play almost with our backs to one another, or at right angles.  So I had to listen very intently to everything he was going to do, because he didn’t do a lot of talking when he played.  He’d go from one tune to another, and I’ve often thought in retrospect that this experience of really listening was very important, because it required a very specific kind of focus to know what he was going to do.  He’d play an introduction, then he’d play the time, and that was it.

That went on a couple of years, and then there was a project that came up.  It was a guy named Rudi Blesh was going to record Lambert.  That didn’t involve me at all.  I think it was going to be a solo album with Lambert.  I don’t know how the conversation began, but they said that they wanted to add a drummer.  Blesh wanted to use some other players, and Lambert wanted to use me.  Danny Barker, who was at Newport when Lambert played, heard about the project — I’m not quite sure of tthe mechanics involved — but Danny, I learned later, recommended me and said that if I’d been playing with the guy, I’d probably be the one you’d want to get.  When they asked me if I wanted to do it, I was terrified, because I’d never done anything like that before.  Ultimately, I was the one who made the recording, and that was primarily because of Danny.  Frank Wallace, the owner of the bar, had kept in touch with Danny after Lambert played, and evidently Danny told Frank that Lambert should use me.  A lot of tap-dancing, a bunch of up-and-back stuff.  I didn’t know anything about it.  I was just a kid playing drums, and that’s it.

(At this point the Editor interrupted and reminded Howard that there was a story extant of Lambert telling Blesh, “That’s my drummer,” referring to Howard.)

Yes.  That was one of the most thrilling things that had happened to me.  If I’d quit playing drums after that, I could have been happy.  I could have died happy.  I was astounded by all of it.  I didn’t know what the hell to do.  I just sat down, and Lambert said, “Hey, man!  Just do what you do with me at the bar.  That’s it!”

Sometimes I’d go out at night after the gig and shoot pool with Lambert, if I didn’t have to work the next day at my day job, hang with him in Newark, and sometimes he would talk about music.

I learned a lot on the job.  He’d make comments.  If he wanted me to do a specific thing, he’d turn around and say, “Now, don’t do something until you hear me sound like I’m ready to have you play.”  Then he’d wait and turn around and say, “And then, put me in the alley!”  That was one of his favorite phrases, “Put me in the alley!”  He didn’t talk a whole lot, but he spoke volumes, the way he played things.  If you just listened carefully, you didn’t have to watch him.  If I were going to speak about people who guided me, it would be Danny Barker and Don Lambert.

One of the rules that I learned, that I thought was extremely important, is that you have to focus, to remember whom you’re accompanying.  And that’s important.  You’ve got to find a way to connect with the soloist.  I never thought of drumming as soloing, I always thought of it as being an accompanist.  And that was something I took away from two extraordinarily different experiences, completely dissimilar in every respect, as far as music.  But the philosophical approach to every gig is the same: you’ve got to listen, be part of the solo, and help the soloist.  And that’s, I believe, of critical importance.  That’s all you can do!

There was a thing that Danny Barker used to say.  He would tell me, “Hey, man, if you’re a drummer, most of the time you’re going to be playing for other people, you’re not going to be playing drum solos.  So it’s nice to do all kinds of monkeyshines” (and I quote) “but your real job is to be an accompanist.  So you gotta learn how to back people up,” and he always talked about that.  He was a wonderful guitarist, and playing time with him was marvelous.  You’d get such a groove, and, hey, if you could get that going, why would you want to do anything else?   So the trick is to be good at accompanying people.  I was lucky, because I got to play with him, and I did an album with him.  And that was a great pleasure.

You could learn on every gig.  You might learn how to develop your chops with a teacher, but in the final analysis, you’re doing it so that you can play with people.  So, to me, the trick is to just stay in the background and play for somebody else.  That’s it.

I’ll tell you a story, and I don’t know the details.  It’s something that Don Coates told me.  At one point, Lambert was working as a janitor or a clean-up guy at the Adams Theatre in Newark.  Jack Teagarden was there with a big band.  There was evidently a piano backstage.  Lambert was fooling around with it, and Teagarden happened to hear what he was doing.  There was a song that Lambert played, a song he had written himself, and Lambert gave Teagarden the music, and, according to what Coates told me, Teagarden used it as a kind of opening theme for his big band.  The story is fuzzy and not very precise, and there’s no way to verify it, because Coates has passed away, but there was some connection between Lambert and Teagarden.  (At this point, the Editor interrupted to tell the story of Lambert being at Jack’s 1940 HRS session, documented in a photograph.)

I’d call him “Lamb,” because that’s what he always did.  And I’d call him “Don” sometimes.  The other thing you might be interested in, one of the sterling times I had with Lambert, is that Frank Wallace called me one day and said, “We’re going to go visit Eubie Blake at his house in Brooklyn.  Would you like to come along?”  I was tongue-tied, but I said, “Sure.”  And I just sat there and listened to them talk, and didn’t say a word the whole time.  It was great, listening to them talk, up and back.  And they both played.

He had interesting things he would say.  His mother was his piano teacher, and she used to tell him he should learn every tune in every key, and he did.  Every tune he played, he could play in all twelve keys.  He was technically a very fine player.  I’ve heard stories about when he was in New York in the Thirties and early Forties, and then he left and kind of buried himself in Jersey.  He was always very humble.  He told me once that he thought he was one of the better piano players in the state of New Jersey.  That’s a direct quote.  Lambert was a lot of fun.  He had a good sense of humor.  He was generous, and he was helpful.  He’d come over sometime and say, “Remember what you just did, because that was OK.”  And that was nice.  I mean, I just played with the guy and had fun.  I was a kid and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.  I was very lucky, and he was very kind.

Lambert didn’t live a lot longer after the record date.  He had a stroke at one point, and he was still playing, and playing well.  But he wasn’t feeling well, and he didn’t always take care of himself as well as he should.  He was in a place in Newark called Martland Medical Center, I think the name of it is, and I visited him there once, and after that he passed away.  I went to his funeral, as a matter of fact.  A very bad time, a difficult time.  I loved him very much.  He was a good guy.

I want to close — in a mist of gratitude to Howard and Audrey and the Lamb — with three ways to celebrate Donald Lambert, and none of them is a photograph of a headstone, because well-loved people are never relegated to such forms.

Second, a marvel.  At the site called Wolfgang’s Concert Vault, the Voice of America tape of the “Old-Timers'” afternoon concert at the Newport Jazz Festival, arranged by Rudi Blesh, including Lambert, Eubie Blake, Willie “the Lion” Smith, the Danny Barker Trio with Bernard Addison and Al Hall — some 93 minutes — can be downloaded here in high-quality sound for $5.

And finally, another marvel.  Videos exist of that afternoon: two solos by Lambert, several each by Barker, Eubie, and the Lion — but this one, I don’t think, has been widely circulated or ever circulated.  I caution finicky viewers that the image is blurry — perhaps this was a film copy from a television broadcast, or it is the nineteenth copy of a videotape (I do not have the original).  But here are Eubie Blake and Donald Lambert essaying CHARLESTON.  Eubie takes over early and Lambert is in the most subsidiary role . . . but we see what he looked like at the piano, and that is a treasure.

Bless Donald Lambert.  Bless Howard Kadison, too.

May your happiness increase!

“THE LAMB OF GOD!”: ELEGIES FOR DONALD LAMBERT IN STORIES, PHOTOGRAPHS, AND MUSIC

Meet the Lamb!  Here he is — don’t mind the murky visual — at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival:

Thanks, deep thanks to Howard Kadison and Audrey VanDyke, keepers of so many flames.  Here is Howard’s prized copy of the PRINCETON RECOLLECTOR, a historical journal almost exclusively devoted — in this issue — to the marvelous and elusive jazz piano genius Donald Lambert.

An editorial about Donald Lambert: will wonders never cease?

Lambert plays the Sextette from Lucia:

Recollections of Bill Priestley, a fine cornetist:

Pee Wee Russell and the milk truck:

Fashions:

More rare narrative:

Lambert in his native haunts:

Playing two melodies at once:

THE TROLLEY SONG, with friend Howard Kadison at the drums:

SPAIN, with Lambert and Kadison:

ANITRA’S DANCE, from the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival:

LIZA, from the same concert:

Yes, Art Tatum:

Physiognomy:

The 1941 Bluebird PILGRIM’S CHORUS:

I GOT RHYTHM (recorded by Jerry Newman, 1940) with Lambert, Hot Lips Page, Herbie Fields, Pops Morgan:

DINAH, from the same party at Newman’s parents’ home):

I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE:

and TEA FOR TWO from the same incredible session, Lambert also playing FRENESI:

 

A very rare (and I think unissued) 1949 performance, BLUE WALTZ:

LINGER AWHILE, with Kadison (the first Lambert I ever heard):

An unlisted WHEN BUDDHA SMILES, with trumpet and string bass:

Another local legend:

May your happiness increase!

TAKE IT FROM THEM: NEVILLE DICKIE and DANNY COOTS PLAY FATS WALLER (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival; Sedalia, Missouri; May 31, 2018)

One of the great pleasures of the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival was their Fats Waller tribute concert — guess who was second row center with camera and tripod as his date?  I will share videos of the Holland-Coots Quintet playing and singing superbly, but first, something rich and rare, the opportunity to hear Neville Dickie in person.  I’ve heard him on recordings for years, but how he plays!  Steady, swinging, inventive, and without cliche.

Some pianists who want to be Wallerizing go from one learned four-bar motif to the next, but not Neville, who has so wonderfully internalized all kinds of piano playing that they long ago became him, as natural as speech.  Eloquent, witty speech, I might add.

Some might think, “What’s a drummer doing up there with that pianist?” but when the drummer is Danny Coots, it’s impudent to ask that question, because Danny adds so much and listens so deeply.  And there is a long tradition of Piano and Traps.  I thought immediately of James P. Johnson and Eddie Dougherty, of Frank Melrose and Tommy Taylor, of Donald Lambert and Howard Kadison, of Willie “the Lion” Smith and Jo Jones, of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett, of Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, and Jimmy Hoskins . . . and I am sure that there are other teams I have left out here.

Danny’s tap-dancer’s breaks may catch your ear (how expert!) but his steady color-filled but subtle support is what I admire even more.  He’s always paying attention, which is no small thing no matter what instrument you play.  In life.

Here are the four selections this inspired duo performed at the concert: only one of them a familiar Waller composition, which is also very refreshing.  Need I point out how rewarding these compact performances are — they are all almost the length of a 12″ 78 but they never feel squeezed or rushed.  Medium tempos, too.

A NEW KIND OF A MAN WITH A NEW KIND OF LOVE comes, as Neville says, from a piano roll — but this rendition has none of the familiar rhythmic stiffness that some reverent pianists now think necessary:

TAKE IT FROM ME (I’M TAKIN’ TO YOU) has slightly formulaic lyrics by Stanley Adams, but it’s a very cheerful melody.  I knew it first from the 1931 Leo Reisman version with Lee Wiley and Bubber Miley, which is a wondrous combination.  But Neville and Danny have the same jovial spirit.  And they play the verse!  Catch how they move the rhythms around from a very subtle rolling bass to a light-hearted 4/4 with Danny accenting in 2 now and again:

Then, the one recognized classic, thanks to Louis and a thousand others, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING.  Neville, who certainly knows how to talk to audiences, is a very amusing raconteur in addition to everything else.  And the feeling I get when he and Danny go from the rather oratorical reading of the verse into tempo!

Finally (alas!) there’s CONCENTRATIN’ (ON YOU) which I know from recordings by the peerless Mildred Bailey and Connie (not yet Connee) Boswell: I can hear their versions in my mind’s ear.  But Neville and Danny have joined those aural memories for me:

What a pair!  Mr. Waller approves.  As do I.  As did the audience.

May your happiness increase!